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Experts say fake prescription pills are to blame for rising overdose deaths in Madison County

Health officials are seeing increasing use of "pressed pills" that look like prescription medication but actually contain fentanyl, a very powerful synthetic opioid.

MADISON COUNTY, INDIANA, Ind. — Health officials are seeing a disturbing trend of deadly overdoses in Madison County.

The county had 30 confirmed overdose deaths in the first seven months of the year, but local experts say the real number is likely much higher, according to our news partners at the Herald Bulletin

“The numbers are only a very small fraction of the real overdoses in Madison County. We’re talking 20% to 30% of the real overdoses,” Ryan Troub, peer recovery coordinator for the Madison County Health Department (MCHD), told the Herald Bulletin.

Recently, health officials have seen an increasing amount of use of "pressed pills" that look like prescription medication but they may actually contain fentanyl.

MCHD administrator Stephenie Mellinger explained dealers may take one substance and mix it with the opioid fentanyl or another substance and then put it into a pill press to make it look like oxycodone.

The DEA has seized more counterfeit pills this year than the last two years combined. The number of those pills containing fentanyl has jumped nearly 430% since 2019, according to the DEA.

Fentanyl has been mentioned as a cause of death in eight of county’s 30 overdose deaths this year through July. Of the 58 overdose deaths in 2020, 41 involved fentanyl. 

To address this rising trend, the health department recently began offering businesses new Nalox-boxes that contain Narcan, the drug used to quickly treat an opioid overdose. 

And, this isn't just a problem in Madison County. Overdoses from fake prescription pills are happening in every county, city, and town across the state of Indiana and the country. 

In September, the Drug Enforcement Agency issued a public safety alert urging parents to talk to their teens about the fake pills.

In Fishers, the police department issued a warning about the counterfeit pills saying investigators believe the pills are linked to at least three deaths and several overdoses in the city. 

Just last month, the Fishers Police Department seized more than 25,000 of the fake pills that were believed to contain fentanyl. 

Investigators say the drugs are being sold through social media sites. Police said apps like Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Telegram and Whisper let teenagers connect with local and national drug dealers, often while remaining anonymous.

In September, the Bartholomew County Sheriff's Office also issued a warning after several recent overdoses. 

“Counterfeit pills, especially those containing fentanyl, pose a serious public health and safety risk as the consumption of a single pill can cause death,” said Sheriff Matthew Myers.

Plus, Marion County has reported a staggering amount of overdose deaths this year. By September, the county had 490 deadly overdoses. Of those, 375 were linked to fentanyl. 

"The numbers are through the roof, staggering," DEA Special Agent Michael Gannon said. 

To put the problem into perspective, around one million people live in and around Indianapolis. "We have clearly seized in this area alone, enough that would have affected over 27 million people," Gannon said.

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