Lawmakers in Congress are asking the State Department to issue a travel advisory warning Americans that some Mexican pharmacies are passing off counterfeit pills made of fentanyl and methamphetamine as legitimate pharmaceuticals.
US Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. David Trone (D-Md.) sent a letter Friday to Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken urging the department to “immediately warn Americans traveling to Mexico about the danger”. face when buying pills in Mexican pharmacies”.
Explaining the need for such a high-profile warning, the letter repeatedly cited an investigation by the Los Angeles Times, as well as a study by UCLA researchers — both found dangerous counterfeit pills being sold over the counter in pharmacies in northwestern Mexico.
“American tourists who unknowingly buy counterfeit pills in Mexican pharmacies, with and without a prescription, according to the Los Angeles Times, face deadly risks from drugs that have actually been poisoned,” the letter said.
A State Department spokesman said in an email that the agency “does not comment on correspondences from Congress.” The department did not respond to questions about the letter or whether it plans to issue a travel advisory.
Markey and Trone sent their letter a day before the Times published a new investigation detailing the final hours in the life of Brennan Harrell, a 29-year-old California man who overdosed and died in 2019 after consuming alcohol-tainted pills. fentanyl bought at a pharmacy. in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Harrell’s parents have fought unsuccessfully for more than three years to have the State Department issue a prominent warning about the dangers of Mexican pharmacies.
The risks of traveling to Mexico for its booming “medical tourism” industry were highlighted last week after four Americans They were kidnapped in Matamoros, a cartel-ridden Mexican border city. Authorities later said the travelers may have been the victims of mistaken identity after the attackers thought their van was carrying rival gangsters.
The incident sparked international tensions, as Republican lawmakers in the US suggested sending troops across the border, while Mexico’s president blamed the violence on Americans’ appetite for illegal drugs.
“We are very sorry for what is happening in the United States, but why are they not addressing the problem?” Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said last week. “Here we don’t produce fentanyl, and we don’t consume fentanyl,” he said, despite clear evidence to the contrary.
The Gulf cartel has since he was sentenced violence, but not until after two of the kidnapped American travelers were killed. One of the two survivors, who returned to the US after the ordeal, was in Mexico for a tummy tuck, one of the nearly 1 million US citizens who seek medical procedures in the country each year.
The high cost of prescription drugs in the US has fueled a lucrative Mexican pharmaceutical market that has seen some pharmacies sell dangerous and fake drugs to unsuspecting visitors, as The Times reported last month.
“These adulterated drugs put unsuspecting American tourist customers, some of whom are seeking to avoid high drug prices in the United States, at risk of overdose and death,” Markey and Trone wrote to Blinken. Markey was a member of the United States Commission to Combat Trafficking in Synthetic Opioids, and Trone was its co-chair.
“The Los Angeles Times investigation found that 71% of the pills its researchers bought from Mexican pharmacies were tainted with powerful drugs like fentanyl and methamphetamine.”
Travel advisories are public warnings issued by the Department of State to inform Americans traveling abroad about the risks they may face when visiting certain countries or places. It is imperative that one be issued on Mexican pharmacies selling counterfeit and tainted pills “as an immediate step,” Markey and Trone wrote in their joint letter.
“The Department of State, through the travel advisories it issues, plays an important role in protecting the health and safety of Americans traveling abroad,” the letter said.
Steffanie Strathdee, a distinguished professor of medicine at UC San Diego and a co-author of the UCLA-led study, said a heads-up isn’t enough.
“My point of view is that it is a Band-Aid,” he said. “She’s not going to solve the problem, although she may help some people to be more cautious, as long as it’s not the only thing being done.”