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Secrets of drug traffickers' counterfeit drugs

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Some drug traffickers are now importing industrial pill presses to pump out highly dangerous pills that are almost impossible to tell from real prescription drugs.

Machines that can do this are coming into the country at record highs and it’s happening coast to coast.

People are dying from the counterfeit pills made with a dangerous synthetic drug called fentanyl.

A drug that's 25 to 50 times stronger than heroin, up to 100 times more potent than morphine.


"People have died from ingesting what they think is a legitimate painkiller and it's a counterfeit pill that contains fentanyl,” said Special Agent John Martin with the DEA.

The death of pop-icon prince could turn out to be the most famous case of counterfeit pills. Police reportedly found mislabeled pills laced with fentanyl in his home - the drug was found in his system.

Pill presses are simply bought off the internet, most from China. They can make pills that look identical to the real thing, so deceivingly accurate that even veteran DEA agents have trouble telling the difference.

The machines themselves are not illegal, but buying them without proper registration is.  The number of illegal imports has spiked 19-fold since 2011.

Cheryl Davies leads the anti-terrorism contraband team at America’s largest seaport in Long Beach, California.

Finding pill presses among millions of tons of goods, is no small challenge - one container is processed every 7.8 seconds.

Customs and Border Protection opened up its secret warehouse for CNN to show the seized pill press machines with investigations underway to see whether they were legally imported.

"We see a variety of machines. They range from manual, little, manual machines that you can make one or two at a time. All the way up to machines that can generate 170,000 per minute. Huge, industrial-sized machines. With all the overdoses that we're seeing, the increase in overdoses in the last couple years, I think these types of interceptions are extremely important. They have a lot of impact on our communities,” said Davies.

In Lubbock, Texas, a police raid discovered a table-top pill press and nearly seven pounds of synthetic fentanyl. It’s so dangerous, that agents had to get into full hazmat gear.


The DEA's John Martin says pill presses have made it easier for drug dealers to make millions of dollars out of their homes 

"They're going to get on the dark net. They'll order fentanyl or some type of fentanyl related compound. It usually comes from China…The setup is relatively cheap,” said Martin.

For $5,000 to $6,000, Martin says someone could potentially sell $10,000,000 of fake pills, pills that can be deadly.