FLORENCE COUNTY, SC (WMBF) – The counterfeit pills sold as Roxicodone that caused six people to be hospitalized last week contain no oxycodone, but apparently contain a synthetic-based cannabinoid, the active chemical in marijuana, according to the Florence County Sheriff's Office.
Williamsburg County Sherriff's Office Employees say there are two possible suspects who are the source of the fake Roxicodone pills that sent six people to the ICU last week.
Alex Edwards, Investigator and Public Information Officer with the Williamsburg County Sherriff's Office says four of those six people from Florence and Williamsburg County are still in the hospital. He says their main goal now is to find out where these pills are coming from. This is a new drug on the scene and his narcotics unit has never seen a counterfeit pill in this type of form before. Edwards explains there are other obstacles.
"One thing about drug dealers is that they also travel and go to different pick up locations so it's very hard to track that information but the narcotics units have to do what they have to do along with their investigation tactics to get to who is buying and who is selling as far as where the illegal drug selling is taken place at," says Edwards.
The Williamsburg County Sheriff's Office obtained one of the suspected tablets, which was submitted to a drug lab in Florence County, an FCSO news release states. The FCSO chemist's initial analysis suggests that the pills contained a synthetic-based cannabinoid, the active chemical in marijuana. The preliminary findings suggest the synthetic THC may be as much as 100 times more potent than that found in regular marijuana.
"It is a known medical fact that THC interferes with receptors in the brain, and at these enhanced levels of potency, presents significant and inevitable health risks like the hospitalizations we have seen recently," an FCSO official states in the news release.
The counterfeit Roxicodone tablets are "strikingly similar" in appearance to the legitimate pharmaceutical tablets, the release states, but appear to have a lighter color than the real pills. Officials clarified that the warning does not apply to prescription Roxicodone purchased from a reputable pharmacy.
Edwards says his office received a tip about these drugs after the people were sent to the hospital and had no idea what was in the drug. "Side effects can go from headache, vomiting, you can pass out, hallucinate.. peoples bodies react to different medications..."We strongly urge our citizens don't borrow any medicine and don't buy any drugs off the street, because your never sure what you're getting," says Edwards.
FCSO is working with the Lake City Police Department, the Williamsburg County Sheriff's Office, the FBI and other entities to track down the source of the counterfeit substances. According to officials, the DEA has classified synthetic cannabinoid a Schedule One Substance, which means it has no recognized medical value, and is illegal to possess.
Anyone with information on the source of the counterfeit pills is urged to call FCSO Narcotics Investigators at (843) 665-2121, ext. 330, or Crime Stoppers of the Pee Dee at 1-888-CRIME-SC.