Prince death investigation: How common are counterfeit pills laced with fentanyl?

- Investigators believe counterfeit pills, labeled "Watson 853" and laced with fentanyl, killed Prince almost two years ago.

But what is a Watson 853?

It’s is a legitimate painkiller, commonly known as Vicodin. The narcotic contains hydrocodone and acetaminophen or Tylenol and is manufactured by Watson Pharmaceuticals.

However, addiction experts say counterfeit versions of that drug and other opioids are turning up across the country with extra ingredients users aren't prepared for.

Investigators found about 100 pills with Watson 853 stamped on them inside Paisley Park. Prosecutors believe Prince thought he was taking Vicodin and didn't know the pills were laced with fentanyl.

"We're seeing them more recently in the rise in fentanyl-related deaths,” said Dr. JoAn Laes of Hennepin County Medical Center. “What a lot of people are doing is starting their own clandestine pill operation where they are manufacturing pills."

Dr. Laes says over the last five years, doctors have seen a disturbing increase in fake prescription drugs laced with fentanyl, which is 50 times more powerful then heroin. She says counterfeit drug makers will go as far as putting the same imprint as legitimate drugs on their versions and match the same drug color, making it almost impossible for users to tell the difference.

"So when there is a market for that pill and it’s hard to get that particular pill, they may add fentanyl as way to make it cheaper, so they can produce those pills and people are interested in buying them,” said Dr. Laes.

Dr. Laes says users are getting the drugs from a variety of sources, everywhere from the regular internet to the Dark Web to China. As opposed to some drugs they get on the street, users may not know what they are in for.

"The danger is overdose especially because people who are buying the pills don't actually know there is fentanyl in them and fentanyl is a very strong opioid type medication,” said Dr. Laes. “That can actually cause you to stop breathing and die."

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