(CNN) – Drug traffickers are becoming more advanced and more daring. Some even importing industrial pill presses to pump out highly dangerous pills. That are almost impossible to tell from real prescription drugs.
These machines are coming into the country at record highs. It’s happening all over the country, in New Mexico, in Florida, in California.
People are dying from counterfeit pills, made with a dangerous synthetic drug called fentanyl. A drug that’s 25 to 50 times stronger than heroin, and up to 100 times more potent than morphine.
Special Agent John Martin of the DEA said, “People have died from ingesting what they think is a legitimate painkiller and it’s a counterfeit pill that contains fentanyl.”
The death of pop-icon Prince could turn out to be the most famous case of counterfeit pills. Police reportedly found mislabeled pills laced with fentanyl in his home, the drug was found in his system.
Martin said, “If you have counterfeit pills you can’t make them without pill presses.”
The machines make pills so deceivingly accurate, even veteran agents have trouble telling the difference. The machines themselves are not illegal, but buying them without proper registration, is. The number of illegal imports has spiked since 2011.
Cheryl Davies, Assistant Port Director of LAX, Customs and Border Protection said, “So you just put the product in here and you turn it. And then it shoots out the front”.
Cheryl Davies leads the anti-terrorism contraband team at America’s largest seaport, in Long Beach, California.
Finding pill presses among millions of tons of goods is no small challenge at the Long Beach seaport. One container is processed every 7.8 seconds.
Davies said, “We see a variety of machines. They range from manual, little, manual machines that you can make one or two at a time. All the way up to machines that can generate 170,000 per minute. Huge, industrial-sized machines. With all the overdoses we’re seeing, the increase in overdoses in the last couple years, I think these types of interceptions are extremely important. They have a lot of impact on our communities.”
The ones they don’t catch, end up in places like Lubbock, Texas. Police raided and found a table-top pill press and nearly seven pounds of synthetic fentanyl. It’s so dangerous, even to touch, that agents have to get into full hazmat gear.
Martin said pill presses have made it easier for drug dealers to make millions of dollars out of their homes, “They’re going to get on the dark net. They’ll order fentanyl or some type of fentanyl related compound. It usually comes from china. So the setup is relatively cheap.”
For five to six thousand dollars Martin says, someone could potentially sell 10 million dollars of fake pills, pills that can be deadly.