Agencies issue warning linking fentanyl to North Mississippi overdoses

National, state and local law enforcement agencies are joining forces to issue a strong warning that the deadly substance known as fentanyl has been linked to a recent string of overdoses and deaths in North Mississippi. 

The joint warning comes from the DEA, the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics (MBN), U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Mississippi, the Oxford Police Department and the Lafayette County Sheriff’s Department. 

In Lafayette County alone, there have been 11 overdoses and three deaths tied to counterfeit pills in 2020.

The drugs in question—counterfeit Oxycodone, Hydrocodone, Xanax, Lortab, Percocet, Ecstasy and even some methamphetamine—are often cut with fentanyl, which according to the DEA, is a powerful opioid that is 100x more potent than morphine and lethal even in small amounts. The agencies warn that, while the pills may look like legitimate medications, they are often manufactured and imported from Mexico or China.

According to the joint statement, a recent investigation revealed that a number of counterfeit pills and sedatives are being sold in the illegal drug market and causing a significant number of overdoses. Last week, the Oxford Police Department explained that the use of the “dark web” was making it more difficult to track where these drugs are coming from.

Based on a nationwide sampling of counterfeit pills seized in 2019, the DEA found that 27% of them contained potentially lethal doses of fentanyl.

“DEA investigations have uncovered rogue manufacturing labs in China that directly supply U.S. distribution networks with synthetic opioids and the chemicals used to make them,” explained Kevin J. Gaddy, the DEA Assistant Special Agent in Charge for Mississippi. “In addition, traditional Mexico-based drug trafficking networks with established infrastructure and smuggling routes continue to supply the United States with heroin, fentanyl, and fentanyl-based compounds.  These networks operate in Mississippi, and we will continue to work in conjunction with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, MBN, and all state and local law enforcement agencies to target and stop these organizations from distributing this poison on the streets of our communities.”

U.S. Attorney Chad Lamar urged everyone not to take any pills that are not prescribed to you and purchased at a pharmacy. 

“If a pill is not prescribed by your doctor and purchased at a pharmacy, there is a really good chance that it is counterfeit.  Counterfeit drugs may look identical to those legally prescribed, but the difference is that counterfeit drugs are not regulated in any form or fashion,” Lamar explained. “We know that there are bad batches of pills here in our area that contain fentanyl and that are causing overdoses and deaths. The bottom line is that if you are thinking of taking a counterfeit pill, don’t do it. If you do, you are playing Russian roulette with your life.”

Steven Maxwell, the Director of the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics shared a similar warning for Mississippi residents. 

“The use of illicit drugs poses a perilous danger and threat to the life of those who consume them,” said Maxwell. “The introduction of counterfeit pills and sedatives into the North Mississippi market adds an additional layer of risk. It is critical that drug users realize that the next high could be their last.”

Fentanyl-laced counterfeit pills also present a threat to anyone who comes in contact with them, including law enforcement officers. The joint release stated that in mid-August, deputies with the Oktibbeha County Sheriff’s Department stopped a vehicle on U.S. Hwy 82 and a probable cause search of that vehicle resulted in the discovery of 1,300 tablets of apparent Xanax and Ecstasy. As the investigating deputies examined the pills, two deputies began having symptoms consistent with fentanyl exposure. Both deputies were treated at a local hospital as a result, and Naloxone or Narcan, a drug that counteracts the toxic effects of opioids, was administered to one deputy.