Remarks as Delivered
Thank you for being here today. I’m pleased to be joined today by DEA Administrator Anne Milgram to shine a light on one of the most significant threats to the public safety and the health in this country: fatal drug overdoses.
The top priority of the Department of Justice is to protect the American people. And that means we have an obligation to make Americans aware of the deadly threat from counterfeit pills - counterfeit pills containing deadly doses of illicit fentanyl. And we also have a responsibility to do all we can, working with our law enforcement partners, to stop it.
So, today we are here to let the American people know that One Pill Can Kill – and we’re here to announce that this week – the women and men of the Drug Enforcement Administration, working with their state and local counterparts in law enforcement, in a series of coordinated actions across the country seized more than 1.8 million counterfeit pills. Now, seizures like this alone will not solve this problem. We also need the public to understand the dangers posed by counterfeit pills.
Last year, more than 93,000 people died of drug overdoses in the United States. This was the largest number of drug-related deaths ever recorded in a single year – and that’s up 30% from last year. These are shocking figures – and as the map shows that we are displaying now – from small towns, to suburbs, to rural counties, no place is immune. No place in this country is immune from the overdose deaths that are plaguing this nation.
Now we know that opioids were responsible for almost 75% of the overdose deaths in 2020 – and the primary driver of those deaths was illicit fentanyl, the synthetic opioid that is most commonly found in counterfeit pills.
Now in recent years, we have seen an alarming increase in the number of counterfeit pills containing illicit fentanyl.
And when we say “counterfeit pills,” I want to be very clear, we mean pills that are fashioned to look like legitimate pills that might be prescribed by your doctor. But in fact, they are fake pills. They’re being manufactured in illegal labs, many cases in Mexico, and they are not, I stress they are not, legitimate medications. Increasingly, they contain deadly doses of fentanyl and also methamphetamine.
Counterfeit pills have been identified in every state in this country. They are being sold in inner cities, suburbs and rural communities. They are being sold over the internet and on social media platforms like Facebook Marketplace or Snapchat, and they are being marketed to teenagers.
The pervasiveness of synthetic opioids, the low cost, and the way criminal drug networks disguise them as legitimate prescription pills really can make them particularly dangerous to public safety.
Now to tackle this problem, we need a public awareness campaign to bring this message to every community and into every household. And we also need aggressive enforcement.
That’s why earlier this week, DEA Administrator Milgram issued a Public Safety Alert about the dangers of counterfeit pills. Now, the last time the DEA issued a Public Safety Alert like this one was in 2015. And the reason we thought it was so important to issue this alert now, is because DEA and its law enforcement partners are seizing deadly fake pills at an alarming rate.
More than 9.5 million counterfeit pills were seized so far this year – that’s more than the last two years combined. The number of fake pills with fentanyl has jumped nearly 430% since 2019.
And DEA is finding that when it seizes counterfeit pills, they contain more than two milligrams of fentanyl, which is considered a deadly dose. And just to put that in perspective, that is the size that could fit on the tip of a pen. That’s all it takes.
And in 2017, again to put this in perspective, one in 10 counterfeit pills contained a potentially deadly dose of fentanyl. Today, that number is four in 10. That’s four in 10 counterfeit pills containing a potentially deadly dose of fentanyl.
And so that’s why we launched the “One Pill Can Kill” campaign. And over the coming weeks and months, we will be pushing this message into communities, into classrooms, into households, throughout this country. And we will be doing so throughout the holiday season as well because we know that’s when prescription drug use and misuse can rise.
Because one pill can kill, DEA field divisions across the country took coordinated enforcement actions and have seized more than 1.8 million counterfeit pills – in just this operation alone.
And this is truly a nationwide effort: over the past eight weeks, 89 DEA offices from coast to coast have conducted enforcement operations resulting in arrests to combat the counterfeit pill surge.
Now, the DEA Administrator will talk about this in more detail, but a very common fact pattern that we are seeing in these enforcement actions is that counterfeit pills that have been brought into the United States have been illegally produced in Mexico; using precursor chemicals supplied by Chinese companies. Now we will be working closely with Mexico to seek assistance to close these labs and we call on China to work with us to help stop the misuse of precursor chemicals for criminal purposes.
I want to thank Administrator Milgram for her leadership at the DEA and for her leadership of this effort. And I’m going to turn it over to her now to provide more details about these operations. Thank you.