Social media drives sales of illicit fentanyl pills / Public News Service

Online sales of counterfeit prescription pills containing fentanyl are on the rise, and experts say social media apps like Snapchat and TikTok are behind the surge, including in Tennessee.

Shabbir Safdar, executive director of the Partnership for Safe Medicines, said an alarming number of counterfeit pills containing fentanyl are being purchased online by teenagers and young adults.

“And in fact, in the last four years alone, we’ve tracked deaths in 19 different states of people who met a drug dealer on Snapchat and then bought a fake pill,” Safdar reported.

According to the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, more than 2,000 Tennessees died of fentanyl-related drug overdoses in 2020, more than double the number in 2019.

Tennessee is one of several states that recently passed laws decriminalizing fentanyl test strips in an effort to reduce deaths. The tests work by dipping the strip in water containing dissolved medication.

Safdar noted that he thinks the strips should be legal, but pointed out that they don’t always detect fentanyl in large amounts.

“In fact, there’s a young guy in Tennessee that we’ve been describing for the past two years, who he and his friends all ordered Xanax from the dark web, and they each took a pill,” recounted Safdar. “It was only this young man’s that contained the fatal amount of fentanyl.”

Safdar pointed out that more Americans are turning to online pharmacies for acetaminophen, aspirin, blood thinners and other routine medications, but said there’s a risk in buying products from any source other than a licensed pharmacy.

“During the pandemic, as many as one in seven Americans went online to buy medication, and many of them went to these bogus Canadian pharmacy websites,” Safdar pointed out.

According to a study published in the Journal of the American Pharmacies Association, there are more than 11,000 websites based in the United States and Canada calling themselves “pharmacies” and selling drugs online.

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