Federal lawmakers seek travel advisory on fentanyl in pills at Mexican pharmacies

Congressional lawmakers are asking the State Department to issue a travel advisory warning Americans that some Mexican pharmacies are passing off counterfeit fentanyl and methamphetamine pills as legitimate pharmaceuticals.

U.S. Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. David Trone (D-Md.) sent a letter Friday to Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken urging the department to “immediately warn Americans traveling to Mexico of danger”. they face when buying pills in Mexican pharmacies.

Some pharmacies in Cabo San Lucas sell prescription pills containing illicit substances.

Some pharmacies in Cabo San Lucas sell counterfeit pills containing illicit substances and pass them off as legitimate pharmaceuticals.

(Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)

In explaining the need for such a high-profile warning, the letter repeatedly quoted investigation by the Los Angeles Times as well as a study by UCLA researchers – who both found dangerous counterfeit pills sold over the counter in pharmacies in northwestern Mexico.

“American tourists who unwittingly buy counterfeit pills from Mexican pharmacies – with or without a prescription, according to the Los Angeles Times – are at risk of death from drugs that have actually been poisoned,” the letter said.

A State Department spokesperson said in an email that the agency “does not comment on correspondence from Congress.” The department did not respond to questions about the letter or whether it plans to issue a travel advisory.

Markey and Trone sent their letter a day before the Times published a new investigation detailing the final hours of the life of Brennan Harrell, a 29-year-old Californian who overdosed and died in 2019 after consuming contaminated pills fentanyl purchased from a pharmacy. in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Harrell’s parents fought unsuccessfully for more than three years to get the State Department to issue a prominent warning about the dangers of Mexican pharmacies.

The risks of traveling to Mexico for its booming ‘medical tourism’ industry emerged last week after four Americans were kidnapped in Matamoros, a Mexican border town plagued by cartels. Officials later said the travelers may have been victims of mistaken identity after the attackers thought their van was carrying rival mobsters.

A pill is on a piece of paper.

Tests on an Adderall pill in Cabo San Lucas came back positive for an illicit substance.

(Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)

The incident sparked international tensions, as Republican lawmakers in the United States suggested sending troops across the border, while the Mexican president blamed the violence on the appetite of the United States. United for illegal drugs.

“We are very sorry for what is happening in the United States, but why are they not taking care of the problem? said Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador last week. “Here we don’t produce fentanyl and we don’t use fentanyl,” he said, despite clear evidence to the contrary.

The Gulf Cartel has since sentenced violence, but not before two of the kidnapped American travelers were killed. One of the two survivors – who have both returned to the United States since the harrowing ordeal – was in Mexico for a tummy tuck, one of nearly a million US citizens who seek treatment each year in the country .

The high cost of prescription drugs in the United States has resulted in a lucrative Mexican pharmaceutical market that has seen some pharmacies sell dangerous fake drugs to oblivious visitors, as The Times reported last month.

“These adulterated drugs put unsuspecting U.S. tourist customers — some of whom are seeking to avoid high U.S. pharmaceutical drug prices — at risk of overdose and death,” Markey and Trone wrote to Blinken. Markey was a member of the US Commission on Combating Synthetic Opioid Trafficking and Trone was its co-chair.

“The Los Angeles Times investigation found that 71% of pills purchased by their investigators from Mexican pharmacies were contaminated with potent drugs such as fentanyl and methamphetamine.”

Travel advisories are public warnings issued by the Department of State to inform Americans traveling abroad of the risks they may face when visiting certain countries or locations. It is imperative to publish one on Mexican pharmacies selling counterfeit and contaminated pills “as an immediate step,” Markey and Trone wrote in their joint letter.

The front of a pharmacy in Mexico.

Some pharmacies in Cabo San Lucas sell counterfeit pills containing illicit substances and pass them off as legitimate pharmaceuticals.

(Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)

“The Department of State, through the travel advisories it issues, plays an important role in protecting the health and safety of Americans traveling abroad,” the letter said.

Steffanie Strathdee, a distinguished professor of medicine at UC San Diego and co-author of the UCLA-led study, said one opinion is not enough.

“My point of view is that it’s a band-aid,” she said. “It won’t solve the problem, although it may help some people to be more suspicious – as long as it’s not the only thing being done.”

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