Last week was busy for the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department, who reported Monday that they confiscated over 500,000 fentanyl tablets that were disguised as ”M30” oxycodone pills. One of the primary reasons people overdose on fentanyl is because they think they are taking a less powerful opioid, typically disguised as an oxycodone or hydrocodone pill.
In one bust, a person at a clothing store was allegedly selling a lot more than just clothes: At 10:56 p.m. Friday, police in Hesperia, California served two search warrants at The House of Drip, a clothing store after officers caught wind of a drug operation taking place there. Officers from the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department suspect that M30 fentanyl pills, as well as cannabis, were being sold at the business.
“Lenin Martinez Arevalo, 29, of Hesperia, was arrested and booked into jail on suspicion of possessing or purchasing drugs for sale, transportation/sales of drugs, and possessing drugs for sale,” the Daily Press in Victorville reports.
Police said they found more than 4,000 fentanyl pills, cannabis, 227 boxes of THC resin, 35 boxes of psilocybin-infused chocolate, and $1,300 in cash while searching the House of Drip.
M30 fentanyl pills are particularly dangerous because they are designed to mimic the look of prescription oxycodone pills, or to a lesser extent—Adderall, Xanax, and other drugs.
A Bigger Problem in San Bernardino County
This was just a fraction of the total number of fentanyl pills the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department Gangs/Narcotics Division scooped up last week. They confiscated over half a million fentanyl tablets.
“Last week, the San Bernardino CountySheriff’s Department Gangs/Narcotics Division seized over 115 pounds of fentanyl pills, equivalent to roughly 517,500 tablets. These pills are counterfeit pharmaceuticals containing fentanyl.
Last October, the San Bernardino County Health Department issued a health advisory to spread awareness to the dangers of fentanyl due to a huge uptick in overdose deaths in the county.
In 2021, there were 354 fentanyl overdose deaths in San Bernardino County.
Local health officials launched a campaign to raise awareness due to an unprecedented rise in fentanyl overdoses and poisonings in San Bernardino County. In June, San Bernardino County Department of Behavioral Health officials stated that the campaign will carry out through the year, with the slogan “Fentanyl Doesn’t Care. But We Do.”
“There is a misperception that fentanyl only affects drug addicts when in reality, it’s affecting a broad segment of our community,” Board of Supervisors Chair Dawn Rowe told the Daily Press last summer “This campaign will help shed light on the reality of the fentanyl crisis and help us save lives.”
The health department joined the “Stop the Void and the INTO LIGHT Project” to develop a media campaign targeting geographic areas in San Bernardino County that are prone to a high rate of fentanyl overdoses, with special consideration for young adults and “at-risk underserved communities.”
DEA’s Battle with Fake M30 Pills
San Bernardino County is just one region in California, but the problem stretches across all of the U.S. Data shows that in 2021, nearly 70,000 people in the U.S. died of drug overdoses involving fentanyl and fake opioid prescriptions.
“Counterfeit pills are nearly identical to actual prescription medications,” the DEA says in a Drug Fact Sheet. “The majority of counterfeit pills resemble oxycodone 30mg pills (M30s), but can also mimic hydrocodone, alprazolam (Xanax), Adderall, and other medications. There are indications that drug trafficking organizations are specifically targeting kids and teens by creating counterfeit pills in a variety of shapes and bright colors to appeal to that age group. Counterfeit M30 pills can vary in color from white to blue. The best way to avoid counterfeit medication is to take only medications prescribed by a licensed medical professional and dispensed by a registered pharmacist.”
As little as 2 mg of fentanyl can be deadly enough to stop breathing, and death is swift. That means taking just one counterfeit pill can result in death, especially if the person does not have a tolerance. On the other hand, 30 mg of oxycodone is maximum strength, which is strong but less likely to cause death than a smaller amount of fentanyl.
“Distributors in the United States are selling counterfeit pills on social media, appealing to a younger audience that use these apps,” the DEA continues. “Minors and young adults experimenting, as well as regular substance users, believe they are buying authentic oxycodone, Adderall, Xanax, or other medicines, but are unwittingly purchasing counterfeit pills that contain lethal amounts of drugs, usually fentanyl and methamphetamine.”
Fentanyl is around 100 times stronger than morphine, and 50 times stronger than heroin. And how widespread is the problem? Twenty-six percent of tablets tested in a DEA laboratory contained a lethal dose of fentanyl, the agency says.