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Here’s how to identify and avoid fake prescription pills to prevent an accidental overdose

·3 min read

Overdose deaths are on the rise in Kansas City and around the country, and investigators say that counterfeit prescription pills are partially to blame. Officials have seized more than 9.5 million fake pills this year so far—more than in the past two years combined. These fake pills are frequently laced with dangerous drugs like fentanyl and methamphetamine that can cause deadly overdoses in unsuspecting users.

A teenager in Chillicothe, Missouri, recently died after ingesting counterfeit pills, and police say hers was not the only overdose caused by fake medication in recent months.

“This decision was fatal because instead of experimenting with prescription painkillers, she was given a counterfeit pill made with fentanyl,” wrote Leland Hawk Jr., the Chillicothe teen’s father, on a community Facebook page. “Hug your kids and make sure they know one simple mistake can end their life.”

With accidental overdose deaths on the rise, officials in all 50 states have seized counterfeit pills disguised to mimic common medications like Xanax, Vicodin, Percocet and Adderall.

[Users] don’t even know that the samples they buy on the street contain fentanyl… so many of the pills look genuine, but they are actually fake pills,” says Percy Menzies, a pharmacist and the director of Assisted Recovery Centers of America in St. Louis. “Fentanyl has become the common denominator.”

Here’s what to look out for in order to help prevent an accidental overdose from fake prescription medication.

Never buy pills from individuals

If you aren’t purchasing pills from a licensed pharmacy, you can’t be completely sure they are legitimate. Private sellers online or in person may claim to be offering their own legally-prescribed medication, while actually selling dangerous counterfeits.

The Drug Enforcement Administration reports that fake pills are frequently sold online, including on social media, where uninformed buyers can easily purchase them. In a September press release, the agency warned that any “pills purchased outside of a licensed pharmacy are illegal, dangerous, and potentially lethal.”

Fentanyl test strips that are intended for drug testing urine can be used to detect fentanyl in counterfeit drugs. However, Missouri state law includes the testing strips in its definition of “drug paraphernalia,” and possession of them is considered a Class D misdemeanor, which is a fine up to $500.

Avoid so-called “M-30s”

Oxycodone pills are frequently small, round, light blue tablets with an M imprinted on one side and the number 30 on the other, indicating a 30 mg dose of the drug. These so-called “M-30” pills are frequently counterfeited. It may not be possible to tell the difference between real and fake Oxycodone with the naked eye. You can trust its safety only if this medication is prescribed to you by a doctor and purchased from a reputable pharmacy.

Learn about Naloxone

Opioid overdose reversals using naloxone more than doubled in Centre County over the last three months of 2017.
Opioid overdose reversals using naloxone more than doubled in Centre County over the last three months of 2017.

This emergency antidote is an easy and effective way to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. It’s available without a prescription at many pharmacies, and will only affect people experiencing an overdose. It is harmless to those who don’t have opioids in their system. You can also access Naloxone for free using the resources compiled by the nonprofits NoMoDeaths and the Mo Hope Project.

Do you have more questions about fake pills or preventing overdoses? Let our new Service Journalism team know at

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