ATLANTA (AP) — Federal prosecutors in Atlanta have charged a woman they say was selling counterfeit oxycodone pills laced with fentanyl and synthetic opioids that carry a higher risk of overdose.
Prosecutors and the Drug Enforcement Administration said Tuesday that they are also issuing a public warning about the pills, much like they did last month when fake Percocet pills caused overdoses in the Macon area. Those pills were linked to five overdose deaths.
Cathine Sellers, 38, was selling counterfeit pills out of her Roswell home, according to a sworn statement from a DEA agent. She was indicted July 11 and is charged with possession with the intent to distribute a controlled substance, namely fentanyl, furanyl-fentanyl and U-47700.
The pills were deliberately designed to look like normal oxycodone tablets but were actually laced with fentanyl and the two synthetic opioids, U.S. Attorney John Horn said in an emailed statement.
"These pills are especially dangerous because they may be more than 50 times more potent than normal oxycodone," Horn said. "Anyone who consumes these pills faces a substantially higher risk of overdose."
Page Pate, an attorney for Sellers, said his client is not guilty.
"I understand the government's interest in pursuing cases relating to fentanyl but I'm afraid, like with so many other things, that they're casting their net too broadly," he said by phone Tuesday. "I don't believe Ms. Sellers is the type of distributor or trafficker that the government is seeking."
A confidential law enforcement source was at Sellers' home on May 14 for a sexual encounter and asked her about several pills seen on a dresser, according to the DEA agent's sworn statement. Sellers told the source the pills contained fentanyl and that her customers returned them because they were too strong but later came back to get them, the statement says.
She told the confidential source she had "thousands" of the pills about a month earlier. The confidential source described the pills as similar to 30-milligram oxycodone pills but said they appeared lighter in color.
Drug dealers often use pill presses to make their pills that contain controlled substances look like prescription pain pills, the DEA agent's statement says. Dealers disguise the illegal drugs in pill form to avoid detection and to avoid harsher punishment if caught.
The DEA agent had the confidential source call Sellers on June 13 to order 100 pills for $14 apiece. The source went to Sellers' home and gave her $1,400 in exchange for the pills. She hinted that she had hundreds more pills available and she could offer a discount for a larger purchase, the DEA agent's statement says.
Later that night, during a search of Sellers' home, DEA agents retrieved the money and found more pills that also contained furanyl-fentanyl hidden in a dietary supplement bottle, as well as a loaded Glock handgun and two magazines. They arrested her that night.