The opioid crisis is killing tens of thousands of Americans a year as powerful synthetic drugs like fentanyl are increasingly mixed in with the heroin supply, killing unsuspecting addicts in greater numbers. These lab-manufactured opioids and their pharmacological cousins are so powerful, a 20-pound mixture of fentanyl and heroin that was recently seized by law enforcement was said to contain enough of the narcotic to kill half of New York City’s 9 million residents, according to one Drug Enforcement Administration agent who spoke with Consumerist.
The drugs were taken when DEA agents busted a heroin mill operating out of an apartment across the street from Central Park. Police arrested four men, including one who was posing as an Uber driver, for their alleged involvement in the drug-distributing ring.
According to NYC’s department of Health and Mental Hygiene, fentanyl – which is 50 times more potent than heroin - is driving a spike in fatal overdoses, which reached an all-time high of 1,374 deaths in 2016, a 46% increase over 2015. Nationwide, the rate of drug-related deaths per 100,000 people peaked at 19.7 during the third quarter, up from 16.7 during the same period a year earlier, according to government data released Tuesday. The increase was driven largely by opioids, specifically fentanyl, carfentanil and other synthetics. Deaths from drug overdoses in the US are believed to have surpassed the 60,000 mark last year.
“Fentanyl is the deadliest street drug to ever hit this country,” said DEA Special Agent-in-Charge James J. Hunt. “This seizure alone contains enough potency to kill half of the population of New York City, if laboratory analysis proves it is all fentanyl. Fentanyl is manufactured death that drug dealers are mixing with heroin.”
Here’s an account of the bust, courtesy of Consumerist:
“DEA agents were conducting surveillance near the building on Central Park West on Aug. 4 when they saw one defendant leaving with two boxes inside a large shopping bag. He got into a vehicle driven by another defendant, an Uber driver, with agents following behind.
Investigators stopped the vehicle, and observed the suspect sitting in the backseat with two boxes: One box was open and they could see a clear plastic bag containing a tan powdery substance inside.
After looking more closely at that box — the larger of the two — investigators say they also saw six large cylindrical packages wrapped in tape and plastic wrap.
And in the smaller box, officials spotted a large cylindrical package wrapped in tape and plastic wrap, and a clear plastic bag containing a tan powdery substance.
Agents seized the packages, and arrested both the Uber driver and the passenger. Meanwhile, investigators kept watching the building, and eventually observed a man previously identified as a member of a drug trafficking organization exiting with another man. When questioned by agents, he said he lived in the building, and admitted to having a gun and drugs in the apartment."
The bust also generated some laughable headlines. According to the Verge, the dealers had branded the some of the packaged heroin with the Uber logo. The drug crew used other corporate logos, like McDonald’s, as well as generic names like “Black Friday.”
President Donald Trump’s Commission on Drug Addiction and Combating the Opioid Crisis urged the president to declare a state of emergency to help combat the crisis. On Tuesday, Trump said the US has “no alternative” but to triumph over the crisis.
The US already has the highest rate of drug-related deaths in the world.