Nassau officials said counterfeit prescription pills mixed with deadly fentanyl may be responsible for what they called “an unusual increase” in fatal and non-fatal overdoses during the past week. 

County Executive Bruce Blakeman and Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder urged residents to be wary of drugs not prescribed by a doctor. They said in an advisory issued Thursday that Nassau saw a rise in overdoses between Jan. 13 and Jan. 18. 

Drug dealers are also mixing street drugs such as cocaine with fentanyl, said Steve Chassman, executive director of the Long Island Council Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, which provides treatment and support to individuals and families struggling with addiction.

“The whole national illicit drug supply is tainted with fentanyl,” Chassman said. “It’s in the cocaine. It’s in the heroin. It’s in the counterfeit pills.” 

Six of 10 counterfeit pills analyzed by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in 2022 contained a lethal dose of fentanyl, the agency said, up from 4 out of 10 analyzed in 2021. 

“Residents are reminded to only take medication that is prescribed by a doctor and controlled by a licensed pharmacist,” Blakeman and Ryder said in their advisory. “All medication should be kept out of the reach of children and should always be safeguarded.”

The isolation and depression caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has fueled an increase in overdose deaths across Long Island and nationwide, according to officials in Suffolk and Nassau, as well as the Drug Enforcement Administration. A record number of Americans — more than 107,000 — died from overdoses in 2021, according to DEA officials.

Recently released data suggests that fatal opioid overdoses on Long Island are declining. The New York State Department of Health’s County Opioid Quarterly Report, issued earlier this month, said there were 232 fatal opioid overdoses in Nassau in 2021 and 86 for the first six months of 2022. 

A report released last month by the Suffolk County Legislature’s Addiction, Prevention, and Support Advisory Panel, citing data provided by the medical examiner, said there were 184 confirmed opioid deaths last year and 100 pending cases. There were 423 confirmed opioid deaths in 2021 and 31 pending cases, the report said. 

The overdoses this week in Nassau County demonstrate that those hard-won gains could be easily reversed, Chassman said. 

“It could get much worse, although we pray that it won’t,” Chassman added. “Every overdose is one too many. We need to get these pills off the street.”

By Michael O'Keeffe