Over the past year, federal drug enforcement investigators have found more and more illegal and potentially deadly drugs pressed into pills, some of which look like they’re meant for children.
In one example, pills shaped like grenades and alien heads in bright colors like purple and green have turned up in southern Maine during what officials at the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency’s New England Division call "normal” casework that occurred within the past few months.
"It’s an ongoing investigation, those are pressed pills that tested with an illicit substance in them," said Robert Prouty, a group supervisor with the federal DEA, explaining that dangerous substances like methamphetamine and fentanyl have been found in the pills.
"It’s very concerning," he said of the pills’ shapes that allude to products like children’s vitamins.
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Both Prouty and Maine’s Director of Opioid Response, Gordon Smith, say the discovery of the pills points to the timeliness of a federal campaign that states like Maine are participating in called "One Pill Can Kill," which urges people to only get medicine or drugs from qualified professionals.
"These pills, if they have two milligrams of fentanyl in them, a person that doesn’t have any tolerance at all to opioids is going to die," said Smith, adding that Maine officials called the appearance of the pills "alarming" but not surprising because similar ones have been found in other states.
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"We need to do more to encourage more people to get into treatment because the supply is just too dangerous," he explained, noting that 77% of Maine’s opioid deaths in 2021 were caused by fentanyl.
"If it’s not prescribed by a doctor or it’s not something legitimately purchased through stores, it could be a counterfeit pill that’s very very dangerous," said Prouty, adding that a number of the fake pills his office is investigating were purchased either "on street corners" or through social media.
Some of them have also been pressed into non-descript tables, not just forms that look like they’re intended for children.
Prouty also said that people should not be "nervous about taking legitimate prescribed medications," and urged anyone who may have discovered some of the illegal pills to contact their area’s local or state police.