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71% of pills tested in Tijuana pharmacies tested positive for dangerous illegal drugs

By Miriam Raftery

Photo courtesy of San Diego District Attorney’s office

February 8, 2023 (San Diego) – Pharmacies in Tijuana and other Mexican cities are selling counterfeit medicines laced with deadly fentanyl and methamphetamines, according to investigations conducted by the Los Angeles Times and by researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles. The tainted fake drugs ranged from narcotic pain pills to pills often used to treat children with attention deficit disorder.

San Diego District Attorney Summer Stephan warns that these potentially lethal pills are being “passed off as legitimate medicine in Tijuana and other tourist areas. Please be careful if you travel to Mexico.”

The Los Angeles Times reports that its reporters found that in Tijuana, pills sold as oxycodone, a prescription narcotic, tested positive for fentanyl. Pills sold as Adderall, a drug used to treat attention deficit disorder, contained methamphetamine. Out of 17 pills tested at multiple pharmacies in Tijuana, 71% tested positive for more powerful drugs than represented. Dangerous illegal drugs were also found in pharmacies in other northern Mexico cities.

Fentanyl is 50 to 100 times stronger than heroin, according to San Diego County Health and Human Services.  A dose as small as 2 milligrams—smaller than a grain of sand—can kill a person.

Last June, San Diego County Supervisors declared a public health crisis due to fentanyl deaths. At least 743 people died of fentanyl in 2021 – quadruple the number in 2019. Fentanyl accounted for 70% of all overdoses countywide in 2021. In December 2022, Supervisors approved a plan to combat fentanyl deaths locally, including making Naloxone nasal spray widely available to help reverse overdoses.

But a growing number of people overdosing weren’t even aware that they had ingested Fentanyl, which is often found laced in other drugs, both street drugs such as heroin as well as counterfeit forms of prescription medications such as Fentanyl.

Fentanyl is now being manufactured in Mexico, with ingredients from China and India, the Times reports. The phony pills typically resemble real prescription medications—and they’re proving highly lucrative for smugglers and drug cartels.

The discovery of fentanyl and other street drugs in pharmacies just over the border is a deadly new twist in sales of fentanyl, which is also sold illicitly not only on the streets here in the U.S., but also online via websites and social media, and likely other avenues.

Many Americans as well as Mexican citizens living in the U.S. have long crossed the border to buy legitimate medications that they can’t afford in the U.S., or to find pain medications over-the-counter after a doctor cuts off prescribing narcotics for pain. 

U.S. tourists and others buying medicines in Mexico largely believed pills sold in Mexican pharmacies were safe – but that’s an assumption that could now prove deadly.


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