The Acting United States Attorney for the District of Nebraska announced earlier this morning that a joint force involving both the Drug Enforcement Administration and Nebraska State Patrol made one of the largest fentanyl busts in the history of the country. According to authorities, 27 year old Edgar Navarro-Aguirre of California was arrested at an Amtrak station in Omaha carrying 15 kilos (33 pounds) of the deadly opioid. Here is more from a local NBC affiliate:
Navarro-Aguirre was traveling on the Amtrak train and waiting at the station when a Drug Enforcement Administration agent was doing a routine surveillance there and noticed a suspicious person with a bag.
"We have officers that are trained to pick out people that are different than the normal traveling public," Nebraska State Patrol Lt. Jason Scott said.
According to an affidavit, Navarro-Aguirre said it was his friend's bag, and he denied that anything illegal was inside.
Inside Navarro-Aguirre's luggage was 15 vacuum-sealed bundles of what forensic chemists determined was pure or nearly pure fentanyl.
"This fentanyl seizure is the largest ever in Nebraska and one of the largest in the nation," a news released from the U.S. Attorney's Office said.
For those who may not be familiar with this deadly epidemic, fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 40-50 times more potent than herion and has resulted in a wave of overdoses across the country, and particularly in the midwest. Experts say it only takes a small amount, about 3 milligrams, for the drug to be fatal.
"This is playing Russian Roulette knowing every cylinder has a bullet in it," DEA Associate Special Agent in Charge Matt Barden said.
With that in mind, the amount seized by authorities in its pure form would be enough to kill approximately 4.9 million people, or nearly the entire populations of Iowa and Nebraska.
"I think it was literally one mishap away from something extremely tragic for Nebraska," Lt. Scott said, "dropping a suitcase or it being cut open, this is in a public venue, this was not in a private room."
As the New York Times pointed out last month, fentanyl is estimated to have killed over 20,000 people in the U.S. in 2016, a 5x increase over just a couple of years.
Drug overdoses killed roughly 64,000 people in the United States last year, according to the first governmental account of nationwide drug deaths to cover all of 2016. It’s a staggering rise of more than 22 percent over the 52,404 drug deaths recorded the previous year — and even higher than The New York Times’s estimate in June, which was based on earlier preliminary data.
Drug overdoses are expected to remain the leading cause of death for Americans under 50, as synthetic opioids — primarily fentanyl and its analogues — continue to push the death count higher. Drug deaths involving fentanyl more than doubled from 2015 to 2016, accompanied by an upturn in deaths involving cocaine and methamphetamine. Together they add up to an epidemic of drug overdoses that is killing people at a faster rate than the H.I.V. epidemic at its peak.
The explosion in fentanyl deaths and the persistence of widespread opioid addiction have swamped local and state resources. Communities say their budgets are being strained by the additional needs — for increased police and medical care, for widespread naloxone distribution and for a stronger foster care system that can handle the swelling number of neglected or orphaned children.
Navarro-Aguirre is facing a charge of possession with intent to distribute 400 grams or more of a mixture or substance containing fentanyl. The penalty carries a minimum of 10 years with a maximum of life in prison. The 27-year-old will appear in federal court Friday afternoon.