Look-alike Oxycodone pill laced with fentanyl worries officials | TribLIVE.com
Regional

Look-alike Oxycodone pill laced with fentanyl worries officials

Chuck Biedka
1919927_web1_vnd-FentynalPillRisk2-110919
Courtesy Drug Enforcement Administration
Deadly look-alike pills like this are being shipped into Western Pennsylvania and elsewhere from Mexico to mimic oxycodone pills that are hard for addicts to find.
1919927_web1_vnd-FentanylPillRisk-11919
Courtesy of University of Pittsburgh
Dr. Mike Lynch is medical director of the Pittsburgh Poison Center and an assistant professor of University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. Nov. 8, 2019.

Reducing the number of legitimate painkiller pills being sold illegally on the street is having an unintended consequence: Mexican drug cartels are now shipping potentially lethal look-alikes that mimic oxy but contain fentanyl.

Oxycodone can come in the form of a blue 30-milligram pill that is among the most popular street drugs, said Dr. Michael Lynch, director of the Pittsburgh Poison Control Center.

There is more street demand for pills than for heroin — or addicts who are intentionally trying to buy fentanyl.

The bogus blue oxycodone pills that are being found in Western Pennsylvania look identical to real oxycodone pills but contain fentanyl, according to Drug Enforcement Administration Supervisory Special Agent Pat Trainor.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is far stronger; if mixed in, even 2 milligrams, it can be lethal.

A DEA survey of blue pills confiscated nationwide during the first three months of the year found that 27% — close to one-third — contained potentially lethal amounts of fentanyl.

The DEA said the look-alikes first seen in New York have been sold on Western Pennsylvania streets since 2016. Among the drug’s victims was rapper Mac Miller, a Pittsburgh native who overdosed in California.

DEA officials say the cartels are mixing in fentanyl in order to use up surplus and to lure junkies who are shunning other illicit drugs because fentanyl already was showing up in cocaine and others.

“The cartels are putting fentanyl in everything,” said Karl Williams, Allegheny County medical examiner. “Heroin, cocaine, pills.”

Trainor said most people seeking illegal drugs want to buy the real “blues” instead of the stuff mixed in “kitchen labs” sold by the cartels. But there’s often no way to tell the difference.

Lynch, the poison control center director, is aware of at least 10 overdoses that he suspects were caused by the look-alike oxycodone pills. None of those people died.

According to data assembled by Overdose FreePA, heroin- and fentanyl-caused deaths from 2011 to 2019 in Allegheny, Armstrong, Butler and Westmoreland counties were about even. Heroin caused 2,465 deaths in the period and fentanyl killed about 100 fewer people.

But Williams notes that most addicts who die are usually have three or more drugs in their bloodstreams.

Chuck Biedka is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chuck at 724-226-4711, [email protected] or via Twitter .

Categories: Local | Regional | Top Stories
TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.