Illegal Drugs That Look Like Rx Painkillers: The Differences Could Be Deadly

Article Contents

Illegal Drugs That Look Like Prescription Drugs

Article Contents

Across the country, drug operations are taking advantage of the rising trend of opioid painkiller abuse by creating illegal drug pills made to look like legal prescription medications.

This incredibly dangerous growing trend has already claimed many lives across the United States as unsuspecting users take what they think is their usual dose and end up overdosing on a mystery drug cocktail. Here’s what you need to know about this disturbing trend.

From Prescriptions to Illegal Drugs

Prescription opioid and opiate medications are often prescribed by doctors to treat acute short-term pain, such as after surgery or a broken bone. However, because of the highly addictive nature of these painkiller drugs, many patients end up addicted if they use them for a prolonged period or for chronic pain.

Benzodiazepines, like Xanax, are mood-altering drugs that are prescribed to treat anxiety and other mood disorders. They too can be very addictive and are also sold on the black market.

Due to the opioid addiction epidemic that is sweeping the nation, doctors have become much more careful about prescribing these addictive medications. But some patients are already hooked and need an alternative source to stave off withdrawal when their doctor cuts off their supply of legal prescription pills.

Doctor Shopping and the Prescription Pill Black Market

“Doctor shopping” is the act of visiting multiple doctors for the same problem with the hope of securing multiple prescriptions.

Addicted individuals may go doctor shopping once they run out of prescription refills from their original issuer, or simply need a higher dose to get the necessary relief from pain and withdrawal. However, once they are unable to do this anymore, black market pills become an attractive alternative.

Drug dealers also engage in doctor shopping to secure a stockpile of pills to sell on the black market. Because of the difficulty in acquiring prescription pills by doctor shopping, prescription medications on the black market are extremely expensive.

Many states are now cracking down on doctor shopping by creating prescription drug databases that allow doctors and pharmacists to track each patient’s prescriptions and prevent duplicate prescriptions. While this has cut down on the inappropriate acquisition of prescriptions pills, it has also forced patients who are addicted to seek out other means of maintaining their addiction via the illegal drug market.

But drug dealers’ supply of prescription meds is also being hurt now that doctor shopping is harder, so they’ve come up with a new solution: Make pills that look like prescription medications but which are filled with more readily available, and cheaper, ingredients such as heroin and fentanyl.

A False Sense of Security

Many prescription opioid users don’t want to turn to heroin, as the dangers of heroin have been widely known for decades. They may instead try to secure more prescription pills through illegal means, thinking they are taking the safer route. Unscrupulous drug dealers take advantage of this desire by offering cheaper illegal drugs disguised as prescription-grade medication.

Not only can black market “prescription” opioid pills be filled with heroin, many drug operations have started mixing in additives like fentanyl to produce more profound effects and create more dependency among customers. These substances have already caused many deaths in several areas of the country.


Three individuals died in San Francisco in October of 2015 after consuming counterfeit Xanax. The pills contained fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid that is vastly more potent than heroin. Over the past few years, 31 states have encountered counterfeit pills containing fentanyl.


A recent cluster of overdose deaths in Georgia pointed investigators to a new additive found in counterfeit Percocet pills. These new pills have led to more than a dozen hospitalizations and five confirmed deaths so far.

This case revealed that the people running the pill operation were using a previously unseen additive that combined fentanyl with another opioid compound. The pills were then shaped to look exactly like regular Percocet tablets.

Drug dealers rely on repeat customers to make money, so they go to great lengths to ensure their customers become hooked on what they have to sell. This new practice of selling fatally dangerous substances made to resemble tamer pills is incredibly dangerous, and lawmakers around the country are urging the public to exercise extreme caution when it comes to purchasing pills illegally.

Pills Aren’t Always the Safer Option

The bottom line: You can’t trust any drug sold on the black market. Drug peddlers routinely sell whatever concoction of drugs they can sell at the highest price for the lowest cost on their end, in order to maximize their profits. This is just the newest way they’re doing it.

When you purchase pills from a pharmacy, you can rest assured knowing they have been screened and purchased through legal channels, and you’ll be receiving the correct medications in the correct dosage. There is no such guarantee when purchasing pills illegally off the street.

While it’s understandable that people who are dependent on prescription medication want to take the safer route and avoid street drugs like heroin, the only truly safe course of action is to address the addiction and get treatment.

This page does not provide medical advice.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Questions About Treatment?

Elevate Rehab offers 100% confidential substance abuse assessment and treatment placement tailored to your individual needs. Achieve long-term recovery.

Treatment Resources

Popular treatment programs