County warns of ‘fake pills’ with deadly fentanyl

Drug tied to two teen deaths in Santa Clara County

The district attorney's office released this photo of the fake oxycodone pills that authorities have confiscated in Santa Clara County recently. The pills contain fentanyl, an opioid that is up to 100 times more powerful than morphine, according to authorities.

Local public safety and health authorities are advising residents of an increase in fentanyl overdoses in Santa Clara County, and the growing presence of counterfeit pain pills that contain the powerful opioid.

Fentanyl is a highly potent synthetic pain medication that is 80 to 100 times more powerful than morphine, reads a Sept. 13 health advisory from the Santa Clara County Public Health Department. Exposure to small amounts of the drug can lead to overdose or death.

“The County Medical Examiner has reported multiple opioid deaths since early August, including those of a 15- and 16-year-old,” reads the Sept. 13 advisory. “Several of these deaths have been linked to…fake pills containing the chemical fentanyl, made to look like a 30 mg oxycodone prescription pill (or Percocet). People who took these pills thinking they were taking oxycodone were unaware that they were taking lethal doses of fentanyl.”

A Sept. 10 “Public Health Warning” from the District Attorney’s Office prompted the public health department to reach out to schools and other organizations that serve youth and young adults.

The DA’s warning includes a photo of the counterfeit pills that look similar to oxycodone pain medication that a doctor may prescribe, or a user might acquire illicitly. But instead of oxycodone, the fake pills contain fentanyl as their main active ingredient.

Since June, law enforcement agencies in Santa Clara County have seized “a large number” of the fake oxycodone pills that contain fentanyl, reads the DA’s Sept. 10 warning.

The counterfeit pills are circular in shape and light blue to light green in color, reads the warning written and signed by Supervising Deputy DA Brian Buckelew. They are stamped with an “M” inside a square on one side, and a “30” on the other side.

The fatal overdoses attributed to these fake oxycodone pills include a “strong uptick” of deadly incidents in August 2019, according to the DA’s office.

“This office still continues to see the presence of fentanyl in counterfeit Xanax ‘bars’ and other pills, in heroin and, increasingly, in powder cocaine,” reads the DA’s public health warning.  

Morgan Hill Police Department posted the DA’s warning to its Facebook page shortly after Buckelew sent it out.

Sgt. Bill Norman said this week that none of the recent fatal overdoses that county authorities cited has occurred in Morgan Hill.

The county health department’s Sept. 13 advisory further describes the fake pills as being manufactured by illegal crime organizations. “The district attorney and multiple law enforcement agencies across the country discovered that this fentanyl-containing fake pill may be in wide circulation around the county and state, and have seized multiple large quantities from multiple locations across the county,” reads the public health warning.

Residents are advised to never ingest a pill that was not obtained directly from a pharmacy or doctor.

Local public health authorities have alerted healthcare providers about the fake pills containing fentanyl. “Because two of the deaths occurred (to) teenagers, we want to ensure that educators and others who work with adolescents and young adults are aware of this fake drug and know what to look out for,” the Sept. 13 advisory adds. 

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