‘Fake Xanax Pill Kills Nine in Florida’

A spate of deaths connected to an opioid “super pill” in Pinellas County, Florida in March 2016 led to legitimate news coverage, as well as fearmongering regurgitation online after the fact.

As WFLA-TV reported at the time, the deaths were caused by pills sold as Xanax that actually contained the synthetic opioid fentanyl, a prescription drug intended for use as a pain medication.

The local sheriff at the time, Bob Gualteieri, called the issue a public health emergency.

“You don’t have to take a handful of them. All you gotta do is take one, and you’re dead,” he said. (This is not always true, but it can be.)

A year later, however, the story was reposted — without citing WFLA’s original reporting — by the drug addiction treatment organization Narconon Suncoast, which claimed that the Fentanyl-related deaths had occurred “in the last three months” without providing any context.

The story was further picked up by other sites painting the rash of overdose deaths in Florida as taking place after March 2016. However, that is not to say that it does not present a health hazard. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

Most recent cases of fentanyl-related harm, overdose, and death in the U.S. are linked to illegally made fentanyl. It is sold through illegal drug markets for its heroin-like effect. It is often mixed with heroin and/or cocaine as a combination product—with or without the user’s knowledge—to increase its euphoric effects.

Rates of overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids other than methadone, which includes fentanyl and fentanyl analogs, increased over 16 percent from 2018 to 2019. Overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids were nearly 12 times higher in 2019 than in 2013. More than 36,000 people died from overdoses involving synthetic opioids in 2019. The latest provisional drug overdose death counts through May 2020 suggest an acceleration of overdose deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Because this story is true but outdated, we have rated it Decontextualized.

Update 4/7/21, 10:47am: This article has been revamped and updated. You can review the original here.