More Than 800 People Have Been Arrested As The DOJ Clamps Down On Fake Pills

Sep 30, 2021
Originally published on September 30, 2021 3:21 pm

Updated September 30, 2021 at 5:55 PM ET

The Justice Department is combating a surge in counterfeit pills that can cause deadly drug overdoses, an effort that in the past two months has led to the arrest of more than 800 people, 60 search warrants and 1.8 million recovered counterfeit pills laced with enough fentanyl to kill 700,000 Americans.

"We are here to let the American people know that one pill can kill," Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said at a news conference Thursday in Washington, D.C.

Monaco said the counterfeit pills are designed to look like regular prescription drugs — Vicodin, Percocet, Xanax or other medicines. The Justice Department said the pills are mass produced in Mexico before making their way to the U.S. to be sold online or on the streets.

"From small towns to suburbs to rural counties, no place is immune," Monaco said.

The DEA chief says the counterfeit pills represent a national emergency

Many of the ongoing investigations into drug trafficking and weapons offenses started with overdose deaths. New Drug Enforcement Administration Administrator Anne Milgram said at least nine overdose deaths are being investigated.

"We want to do everything we can to stop the next overdose from happening," Milgram said.

Milgram talked with Mexico's attorney general this week. She told him the U.S. is in crisis and asked for his help, including honoring extradition requests and giving the DEA access to "illicit financing information and other critical evidence we need when we conduct investigation into organized crime," Milgram said.

The DEA chief said a significant number of her investigations involve sales on sites such as Snapchat and Instagram. Asked whether the technology companies are doing enough, she said: "There's no question in my mind that those sites need to do more. If we know that there's drug dealing happening on their sites every single day, they know that, too."

Milgram said the counterfeit pills represent a national emergency, and this is just the start of the DEA response.

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The Justice Department is pouring its resources into investigating counterfeit pills that lead to deadly drug overdoses. Authorities have arrested more than 800 people in the last two months. NPR national justice correspondent Carrie Johnson reports.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco described the problem in stark terms.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LISA MONACO: We're here to let the American people know that one pill can kill.

JOHNSON: Monaco says the counterfeit pills are designed to look like regular prescription drugs - Vicodin, Percocet or other medicines - but they contain enough fentanyl to kill.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MONACO: From small towns to suburbs to rural counties, no place is immune.

JOHNSON: For the last two months, every Drug Enforcement Administration division in the U.S. has been on guard. They've launched nearly 100 investigations, executed 60 search warrants and seized 158 rifles, shotguns and other weapons. Anne Milgram is the new administrator of the DEA.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANNE MILGRAM: Many of these investigations began with overdose deaths. At least nine overdose deaths are being investigated as part of this work.

JOHNSON: Milgram says this operation alone seized 1.8 million counterfeit pills laced with enough fentanyl to kill 700,000 Americans. She says the pills were mass produced by criminal drug cartels in Mexico and sold online or in the streets. Milgram says the DEA is doing all it can to target and dismantle those networks. Milgram talked with the attorney general in Mexico this week. She told him this country is in crisis and asked for his help.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MILGRAM: That Mexico will take seriously extraditions that - and will honor extradition requests; that we get access to illicit financing information and other critical evidence that we need when we conduct investigations into organized crime.

JOHNSON: The DEA chief says a significant number of her investigations involve sales on sites like Snapchat and Instagram.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MILGRAM: There is no question in my mind that those sites need to do more. If we know that there's drug dealing happening on their sites every single day, they know that too.

JOHNSON: Milgram says the counterfeit pills represent a national emergency, and this is just the start of the DEA response. Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF FOUR TET'S "TWO THOUSAND AND SEVENTEEN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.