32 deaths in metro Phoenix attributed to fake Oxy pills

Posted: Updated:
(Source: DEA) (Source: DEA)

Authorities say they have uncovered a disturbing new trend in drug trafficking in Arizona in which addicts are taking counterfeit OxyContin pills that are laced with the more powerful painkiller fentanyl.

The Drug Enforcement Administration says the counterfeit pills are responsible for the overdose deaths of 32 people in metro Phoenix over the last 18 months.

[RAW VIDEO: DEA news conference on drug trafficking and abuse]

Officials say the addicts don't know they're taking a more powerful drug.

Manufactured by Mexican drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) and sold as oxycodone on the illicit drug market, fentanyl is an opioid 100 times stronger than morphine.

These counterfeit pills are smuggled into the U.S. by Mexican DTOs through Arizona.

At least 32 deaths in the last 18 months in Maricopa County have been tied to these counterfeit pills.

Alarmingly, in nearly 75 percent of those overdoses, examiners also found dipyrone, (aka Metamizole,) a painkiller banned for use in the U.S. since 1977. 

“Manufacturing these pills using extremely deadly substances like fentanyl is a reflection of the depravity by which Mexican drug traffickers operate to further their profit margin,” said Doug Coleman, Special Agent in Charge of DEA in Arizona.  “Mexican DTOs are pushing these deadly substances into the illicit drug market to expand their business among the already increasing opioid-addicted population.  People are dying across the country and here in Arizona.” 

Of the 32 associated deaths:

  • All of the deaths were positive for fentanyl.
  • The average age at death is 35 years, with a range of 16-64 years of age. 
  • The average age at death for females is 37 years and for males, it is 34 years.
  • 50 percent of the deaths are Whites, 38 percent Hispanics.
  • 75 percent of the deaths are male.
  • 11 of the deaths were in Phoenix, 7 in Mesa          

The DEA is examining all available reporting surrounding these deaths to pursue any investigative leads and determine the origin of the counterfeit pills.

Agents are seeking the assistance of the community and law enforcement to share information concerning the availability of this and any other synthetic opioids as they surface within local drug markets.  

[RELATED: Pill presses for counterfeit drugs seized in record numbers]

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