NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – New research into the impact of counterfeit pills shows that overdose deaths are on the rise. And the impact is particularly bad in the western U.S.

Using data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), researchers examined drug overdose trends across the nation. Overall, “deaths are at historically high levels in the United States, with a preliminary estimate of more than 105,000 deaths in 2022,” they report. A key factor behind deaths: is counterfeit pills that users may think are safer pharmaceuticals.

Counterfeit pills often contain adulterants. Sometimes those are just cheap fillers – sometimes they’re potentially lethal effect-boosters like fentanyl.

The research reveals that more than half of the overdose deaths reported throughout 2021 were in western states. Counterfeit pill use was highest in the West as well, although researchers do not have data for every state.

While counterfeit pill use-related overdose deaths essentially doubled nationwide from mid-2019 to the end of 2021, in the West, deaths outpaced the rest of the nation. Western states saw a tripling in deaths over that time, the researchers note.

One explanation for why Western states have seen a larger increase is that counterfeit pills are entering new markets in the West, according to the researchers. In the past, fentanyl was harder to add to some Western drugs because mixing it with the black tar heroin prevalent in the West is challenging, the researchers note.