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Local forensic toxicologist shares concerns about deadly fake prescription pills

"This is a really small pill and this is all it takes."
Local forensic toxicologist shares concerns about deadly fake prescription pills
Posted at 5:00 AM, Sep 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-29 09:04:52-04

EL PASO COUNTY, COLO. — There are hundreds of overdose deaths in our state every year and the people who investigate the cause of these deaths say fake prescription pills sold over the internet and on the streets are making things even more deadly.

Fake prescription pills, addiction, and dangerous drugs circulating in our communities are costing people their lives at a startling rate. El Paso County's forensic toxicologist says people would be shocked to see the kind of damage that can be done by such a little pill.

"This is a really small pill and this is all it takes. That's all it takes is just one of these," El Paso County Forensic Toxicologist Andrea Tully said while holding a small pill in the palm of her gloved hand. "Yeah, when it's laced with fentanyl that's enough to do you in right there."

Tully works with the coroner to investigate the cause of death in an increasing number of drug overdose tragedies. She says locally we're seeing about one a day.

"It's easily, easily about that much. I mean, it is wild how many overdoses we are having," Tully said.

She says fake prescription pills like this are pressed and designed to look like the real thing and they are circulating in our community often containing unregulated amounts of fentanyl. "Somebody could've scooped barely any fentanyl into this and pressed it and you'll be fine, but somebody could've also scooped all of the fentanyl into this and pressed it and it's just straight fentanyl," Tully explained. "So like I said. You never know what you're actually getting. It's kind of always like Russian roulette."

State records show in the first six months of this year at least 381 Coloradans have died from fentanyl overdoses. We're on pace for an average of 64 a month, two a day. Compare that to 9 of these deaths a month back in 2018.

"Me personally, I lost three friends in one year to fentanyl," Luke Johnson said. "That's not an overdose. That's a poisoning." Johnson knows the struggles of pill addiction and has overcome his own challenges. He now coaches recovery at Springs Recovery Connection. He's working to share resources and to heal the emotional wounds that lead people to substance abuse in the first place.

"Nobody would honestly put a deadly substance in their body if they weren't already sick. You have to be really hurting to look at the benefits of what that substance will give you," Johnson continued.

There were 1,477 overdose deaths in Colorado in 2020. That's about four a day and more than a thousand of these deaths were men.

"Thank God if you're still alive and in active use, but the worst thing is the wasted potential. Not that we lost that person, but who that person could have been," Johnson said. While some of these deadly drugs are still bought and sold on the street, the internet has made acquiring all sorts of drugs easier than ever before.

"And you don't need the dark web to get it," Tully said. "I've found several websites where you can just go and buy your drugs." While she hopes people might avoid the dangers in the first place, El Paso County's toxicology expert is urging drug users to be cautious. "People are going to try it. They're going to do it. Just test your drugs. That's the biggest advice I have for people," she stated.

Here is the statewide drug overdose data provided by the State of Colorado going back to the year 2000.

If you are struggling in this area and need help, there are plenty of resources and people to talk to.

Here are some drug rehab, addiction, and recovery resources provided by Luke Johnson to News5:

Springs Recovery Connection

Springs Recovery Connection resource dashboard


Insight Services Colorado