HIDTA Warning: Fentanyl-laced pills sold in Hawaii look identical to those from pharmacy

Federal narcotics agents say drugs laced with fentanyl are flooding the state.
Published: Sep. 7, 2022 at 2:19 PM HST|Updated: Sep. 7, 2022 at 6:22 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Federal narcotics agents say drugs laced with fentanyl are flooding the state.

Not only is it showing up in meth and heroin. It’s also being found in pills that look identical to the ones at the pharmacy.

Meanwhile, fentanyl is having a devastating fallout in the community.

The hardest thing in life is saying goodbye to someone you don’t want to let go.

“I wake up everyday. Crying,” said Tracy Fu. “We as a family will never be the same. We are broken.”

It’s been one year since the Kauai mother last held her son.

A year since a 1-year-old girl lost her dad.

On Aug. 20, 2021, Austin Thronas died of an overdose. The 26-year-old Kapaa man was killed by a drug he didn’t even know he’d taken.

“The results of the autopsy showed that his heart stopped because of fentanyl,” said Fu.

The opioid is 100 times more powerful than morphine.

According to the DEA, a few specs of powder tinier than the tip of a pencil can be lethal.

Data from the state Health Department shows at least 41 people died in Hawaii last year from synthetic opioid-related drug overdoses.

Officials believe most, if not all of those deaths were fentanyl-related.

Small amounts of fentanyl started turning up in Hawaii back in 2016, often times unknowingly mixed with other drugs like heroin and meth.

Now federal law enforcement say agents are finding it in pills that look just like what you’d buy at the pharmacy. And they’re showing up in every community in the state.

“They’re seizing this in operations by the thousands,” said Gary Yabuta.

Hawaii News Now asked the executive director for Hawaii’s High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area to do a side-by-side comparison.

“These are the real genuine pharmaceutical oxycodone,” he said as he held three white pills in a sealed plastic bag.

He then referenced to three more pills that were blue in color.

“These are made to look like oxycodone but they’re not,” he said. “They’re pills that are laced with fentanyl.”

Federal narcotics agents say just one pill can be deadly.
Federal narcotics agents say just one pill can be deadly.(Hawaii News Now)

Both sets of pills had identical markings.

Although the color is different, Yabuta says that’s not a tell-tale indicator if it’s counterfeit. He says shape and color can vary by brand.

“The Mexican cartels are manufacturing these pills in Mexico with pill presses,” Yabuta said. “It’s coming ready made across the border.”

And oxycodone lookalikes aren’t the only thing they’re pumping out.

“Anything that is an opioid prescription drug can be made to look like a pill with fentanyl,” Yabuta said.

Agents have confiscated counterfeit Xanax and Adderall too.

Difference is with the fakes — one pill can kill.

“The problem is you don’t know,” said Yabuta. “And there’s really no concrete way of telling you immediately what’s real and what’s not.”

A significant amount of fentanyl turning up in Hawaii is coming in through the mail.

Law enforcement says traffickers are shipping it the same way businesses send packages.

Over the past three years, the amount of fentanyl seized through HIDTA initiatives has skyrocketed.

In 2021, agents confiscated nearly 40,000 pills. That’s up more than 2000% from 2019.

Last year, law enforcement also recovered about 12,000 g of fentanyl powder — whereas before, there was barely any.

“It’s so common and it’s such a huge magnitude that’s it’s really hard for law enforcement to target a lot of these distributors,” Yabuta said.

Meanwhile, pills, powder and other fentanyl-laced drugs flood the state. Most people having no clue what they’re taking.

“It’s like giving them a bazooka with them out even knowing,” Fu said.

This mother’s story is one most wouldn’t have the courage to share.

But she knows the alternative is far worse.

“Pretending that it’s not there only makes it more available for the next person,” said Fu. “We have to be aware of it — make sure that our kids are aware of it.”