Mexico.- On alert is the discovery that pharmacies in several cities in northwestern Mexico are selling fake drugs mixed with drugs such as methamphetamine and fentanylindicating that the expanding market for synthetic drugs is putting unsuspecting customers at risk.
The report, carried out by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and corroborated by a similar investigation by the Los Angeles Times, found that counterfeit pills are marketed as substances of controlled sale such as Oxycodone, Percocet or Adderall.
The UCLA team found that counterfeit controlled substances were available without a prescription at two-thirds of the 40 pharmacies visited in four cities in northwestern Mexico, including tourist destinations as Tijuana and Cabo San Lucas. Due to the price of the medicines, they were bought mainly by American tourists.
Pills containing fentanyl, heroin, and methamphetamine were available at more than 10 pharmacies. Of the 45 samples taken, nine pills sold as Adderall tested positive for methamphetamine and eight sold as Oxycodone contained fentanyl. Three other pills sold as Oxycodone contained heroin.
“The pharmacies that distributed counterfeit medicines were located in small neighborhoods where tourists are served, and they usually had ads in English,” the report states.
For a long time, Americans have bought medicines in pharmacies in Mexican border cities, in order to save money. However, it is very difficult to differentiate legitimate drugs from illegitimate ones, so many customers are inadvertently buying contaminated drugs, the report notes.
InSight Crime Analysis
While it is not yet clear how pharmacies are obtaining counterfeit pills laced with illegal substances, potential suppliers could be drug-producing groups on the Mexican side of the border, given the size and power of these groups.
Morgan Godvin, an expert on illegal drugs and justice policy, and a co-author of the report, notes that organized crime groups were responding to market demand. As wealthy tourists began ordering oxycodone from pharmacies, criminal groups may have seen an opportunity to supply pharmacies with counterfeit pills, Godvin said in communication with InSight Crime.
“What is most surprising is that the same pills that dominate the US opioid market are being sold in some Mexican pharmacies for a much higher cost,” Godvin told InSight Crime.
The expert says that in Portland, Oregon, these pills cost around $5, while in Mexico they can cost between $25 and $35.
The difference in prices also indicates a difference from what consumers expect. In the United States, as InSight Crime reported, more and more consumers want to buy fentanyl, hoping that the prices will not be high because they know that the pills are counterfeit. While in Mexico, ironically, US consumers believe they are buying the real drug at lower prices, compared to the retail price in the United States.
The proliferation of counterfeit pills “poses a serious overdose risk for purchasers who believe they are receiving a known amount of a less strong drug,” says Chelsea Shover, lead author of the report.
It is not clear how this market would work between the cartels and the pharmacies. US authorities have singled out the Sinaloa Cartel and the Jalisco Nueva Generación Cartel (CJNG) as the two main groups behind the production and trafficking of fentanyl into the United States, contributing to the tens of thousands of overdose deaths each year. Sinaloa, the northern state from which the Sinaloa Cartel takes its name, is suspected of being the main center of fentanyl and methamphetamine production in Mexico. But there may be some distance between them and the shelves of pharmacies.
“I suspect that there is some sort of intermediary between these groups and the pharmacies that sell the counterfeit pills,” says Jaime Arredondo, a professor at the University of Victoria and a researcher at the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research.
Even so, Mexican groups have a long history of participation in legal pharmaceutical markets. In 2012, US authorities raised alarms about “pharmacy cartels” in Mexico, which were disrupting the US prescription drug market with illegally obtained drugs. In 2018, the Mexican Association of Pharmaceutical Research Industries (AMIF) reported that almost two-thirds of the drugs sold in Mexico “are stolen, expired, counterfeited, or produced without meeting minimum quality requirements,” as reported by InSight. Crime.
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The cities of northern Mexico have been hard hit by the growth of synthetic drug trafficking given their strategic location along the main smuggling routes. Illicit fentanyl, for example, has already entered the heroin supply in Tijuana; in turn, methamphetamine use is also growing in Mexico.
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