Regulators and health experts have been taking a strong stance on what they call the U.S. opioid epidemic, but a recent Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) bust in Southern California shows just how dangerous some of these drugs can really be.
A federal grand jury indictment unsealed Monday in San Diego charges three local residents with possession of nearly 100 pounds of fentanyl – an opioid drug whose derivatives can be 50-100 times stronger than heroin.
How devastating could that much fentanyl be, you might ask? DEA officials say the amount was enough to kill 1.4 million people. To put that in perspective, that’s enough to kill every person in the state of Illinois, or every person living in New York City, Los Angeles, or Chicago.
“The combined amount – 44.14 kilograms – represents the largest fentanyl seizure sent to a DEA lab nationwide,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a statement.
Extremely dangerous opioid
The indictment alleges that defendants Jonathan Ibarra, Anna Baker, and Hector Fernando Garcia discussed transporting an unnamed drug on November 30, 2016, with Ibarra being instructed to have Baker pick up the drugs in San Diego and haul them to Lemon Grove, California – an eastern suburb of the city.
After receiving the information and a warrant, DEA officials stopped Baker’s car and say they discovered 15 kilos of fentanyl in the vehicle. A further search of her home allegedly yielded 30 more kilograms. The indictment charges Ibarra, Baker, and Garcia with possession with the intent to distribute, which could mean mean life in prison for each of them and up to $10 million in fines, according to Courthouse News.
Regulators say that fentanyl is becoming an increasingly popular opioid drug because of its fast-acting nature and short-term effects. However, it can be extremely dangerous in even the smallest amounts; just 3 milligrams can be lethal to humans, an ounce could kill up to 9,457 people, and a pound could kill 150,000 people.
Back in 2016, Sen. Patricia Bates proposed a measure to the California legislature that would have imposed harsher penalties on trafficking fentanyl, but an Assembly Appropriations committee held back the bill, according to the Los Angeles Times.
“Given fentanyl’s deadly potency, the law should treat fentanyl trafficking the same as heroin and cocaine,” Bates said.