ARLINGTON, VA -- The DEA issued its first public safety alert in six years this week, urging people to use caution when ordering prescription drugs online.
Criminal drug networks are producing counterfeit versions of what look like approved medications and selling them online.
"Within these counterfit pills are synthetic opioids such as fentynal, which is an extremely powerful opioid, sometimes 100 times stronger than other opioids," said Dr. Joe Bianco, Essentia Health's Opioid Stewardship Program Director.
The DEA stresses that the warning does not apply to legitimate prescriptions your doctor may send to the online or mail-order version of a licensed pharmacy.
The alert comes at a time when opioid presciptions in Minnesota are down by almost half of what they were 10 years ago.
"Long term chronic opioid use for patients is really limited to a very small number of medical conditions," said Bianco.
Depsite the shrinking number of prescriptions, Minnesota has seen a significant increase in opioid related drug overdose deaths.
Drug counselors say that's because people can get addicted to a legitimate prescription, then look for somewhere else to get their fix.
"It's not really something that gets them started, it's something they use after they get addicted," said Guy Hall, a Genesis Recovery Servcies Counselor.
Experts say it's important to only take prescriptions drugs from a trusted pharmacist or clinician.
"I've had people report that they were getting or buying what they thought were just regular presciption opiate pain killers from people on the street, and they've been laced with fentynal," said Hall.
Even though the pills may look legitimate, their contents could be deadly.