A pill being sold on Upstate streets under the false label of Xanax is responsible for multiple fatal overdoses, including killing a man who was making the pills, law enforcement agents said Wednesday.
Sheriff Hobart Lewis described the drug, Clonazolam, as “poison.”
Federal and local drug enforcement agents and Greenville Police have bought or seized thousands of the pills, officials said in a Wednesday afternoon news conference.
Bart McEntire, commander of Greenville County Multi-Jurisdictional Drug Enforcement Unit, which includes the Sheriff’s Office and all police departments in the county, said it’s concerning that users do not know the potency of the drug. The drug can lead to respiratory depression, coma and then death. Several people have overdosed in addition to those who have died, he said.
One man who was making the drugs died earlier this week at a luxury apartment complex in Greer. He was using the dark web to buy pill presses and contact buyers and shipped the product through the United States Postal Service, officials said.
McEntire said pill presses can make 4,000 pills an hour. On the street, 5,000 pills sell for $12,000.
“It is a huge problem,” he said.
Drug enforcement officers have tracked packages sent by the now-deceased drugmaker, and in at least one case, officers in North Carolina saved the life of a man who had received one of the packages. They went to his house and found him in a coma on the floor.
Officers have to wear hazmat suits to enter places where the pills are made. The substance spreads all over the floors and walls.
One of the challenges with Clonazolam is it’s not listed as a controlled substance, so common criminal drug charges do not apply in South Carolina. Virginia is the only state, so far, to list it as a schedule 1 substance. It has never been licensed for therapeutic use.
In South Carolina, people possessing Clonazolam are charged with having a counterfeit drug, officials said.
Lewis said, however, if law enforcement can track the drug involved in a fatal overdose back to the manufacturer, murder charges could apply.
The drugs can be any color and many different shapes.
Officers have found 11 pill presses in Greenville County in the past year. The Drug Enforcement Administration requires that pill presses be registered.
“This is a national issue, and it’s right here in Greenville County,” McEntyre said.
Lewis said he and others will be talking with state legislators to fill the gap in laws pertaining to counterfeit drugs.