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DEA seized over 10 million fentanyl pills across United States in just 4 months

Drug traffickers have expanded their inventory to sell fentanyl in a plethora of bright colors, shapes and sizes.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Tuesday, the DOJ announced the results of an enforcement operation that seized millions of deadly doses of fentanyl across the United States. 

As part of the One Pill Can Kill initiative, the DEA and its law enforcement partners seized over 10 million fentanyl pills, in addition to 980 pounds of fentanyl powder, from May 23 through Sept. 8. 

Officials said the amount of fentanyl taken off the streets during this surge is equivalent to more than 36 million lethal doses.

DEA officials said fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 50 times more potent than heroin, is the deadliest drug threat facing the United States. Just two milligrams, an amount that could fit on the tip of a pencil, is considered a potentially lethal dose.

Louisville's DEA division, which oversees Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia, participated in this One Pill Can Kill operation, and previous initiatives. 

RELATED: 2 people reportedly in Indiana fentanyl trafficking ring indicted by federal grand jury

Special Agent in Charge Jeffrey Scott said some of the drugs seized were from the Louisville area.

"We have found these fake pills every go around that we’ve done this," he said.

The One Pill Can Kill initiative first launched in September 2021 to take action and educate the public about the dangers of fentanyl pills disguised and sold as prescription medications.

Scott said because the pills are often disguised, many people don't know they're taking a more lethal substance. 

“Most often the overdoses are not because people are seeking fentanyl or heroine, they’re actually looking for drugs like Percocet," he said. “If you take a pill that wasn’t prescribed for you, statistically there is a very good chance that pill has probably been adulterated with fentanyl and an equally good chance that could be a fatal dose.”

RELATED: Louisville Metro Public Health offering free Narcan to the community

In 2021, the DEA reported over 107,000 Americans died from a drug poisoning or overdose. 66 percent of those deaths can be attributed to synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl.

According to an annual report, overdoses increased nearly 15% last year in Kentucky, and 70% of those overdoses involved fentanyl. 

Scott said drug traffickers have expanded their inventory to sell fentanyl in a plethora of bright colors, shapes and sizes. Dubbed "rainbow fentanyl," he said it could potentially target a younger audience.  

“I think its marketing and branding and in a way its trying to target our most young adults," Scott said.

Rainbow fentanyl was first reported to the DEA in February 2022, and it has now been seized in 21 states, including West Virginia. Scott believes it will soon be present in Louisville.

RELATED: Local mother raises awareness for opioid overdose after son's death

“We’ve seen fentanyl everywhere so merely changing the color doesn’t change how deadly it is or how prevalent it is," he said. 

Scott encouraged parents to talk to their children and teens about the dangers of purchasing pharmaceuticals they aren't prescribed, especially from online sellers.

Louisville Metro Public Health and Wellness also provides harm reduction services at multiple locations across the Metro. Those services include Narcan kits, fentanyl test strips and linkage to substance use treatment programs.

"We know that nobody in our community deserves to die from substance use and we have evidence based tools that can prevent that death," Ben Goldman, a community health administrator with LMPHW, said. 

Goldman said with the rise of fentanyl, demand for test strips has gone up, but many people may not realize some drugs are actually fentanyl. 

“A lot of people who don't consider themselves people who use drugs and maybe buy an illicit, unregulated Vicodin or Adderall or another prescription drug wouldn't necessarily think to come to the health department," Goldman said. "While we’ve seen an increase in demand, there is certainly a higher need than is being reached." 

The DEA provides additional resources for parents and families here. You can also find tips for talking to children about drugs here.

You can find more information about LMPHW harm reduction sites here.

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