MN: Fake oxycodone pills containing deadly fentanyl raise alarms with Twin Cities health and law enforcement officials

StarTribune –

In recent months, authorities have seized thousands of the pills across the Metro area.

Minnesota – Fake oxycodone pills containing fentanyl are increasingly popping up on Twin Cities streets, alarming health officials and prompting law enforcement agencies to quickly switch gears to stem their flow into the region.

In recent months, the counterfeit “MBox” pills, named for their signature imprint, have been blamed on “a large number of overdoses and overdose deaths in numerous cities throughout Minnesota,“ a Minneapolis gang investigator wrote in a search warrant affidavit filed earlier this month. Local authorities have seized of thousands of the pills, which are designed to look like brand-name 30mg oxycodones, but laced with unpredictable amounts of fentanyl and its analogues.

Yet the product keeps pouring into the region and into the hands of small-time dealers and gang members who peddle it for $35 a pill.

“It makes a deadly substance, fentanyl, really accessible and really cheap and it makes it even more deadly if it’s disguised as something that we know,” said Julie Bauch, Hennepin County’s opioid response coordinator. “But, do they know if it’s a fentanyl synthetic or another synthetic or in what dose? They don’t know.”

A spike in overdoses linked to fentanyl has sent health officials and policymakers rushing to find long-range solutions, just as the opioid epidemic appeared to be slowing in parts of the country. According to preliminary data from the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office, deaths related to fentanyl continued to rise in county last year, mirroring a national trend, though it’s difficult to say how many of those fatalities were caused by pills.

At least 135 people died from fentanyl or fentanyl analog overdoses countywide in 2019 — a tenfold increase from the number that fatally overdosed in 2015, the last year for which reliable data are available. Overall opioid-related deaths ticked up slightly, to 170 last year from 163 in 2018, but were still down from the five-year high of 197 recorded in 2017.

Experts say the white powder, which is 50 times stronger than heroin and can be lethal to non-opioid users in even small doses, is being cut into other opioids to produce a longer-lasting and more potent high.

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