The Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Administration are warning people who illegally buy drugs and painkillers on the street or in Tijuana, Mexico, that drug cartels are selling lethal doses of fentanyl disguised as counterfeit OxyContin pills and street heroin.
The cartels are substituting fentanyl for heroin because they can produce it more cheaply and is much stronger and more deadly than the pharmaceutical fentanyl that a doctor would prescribe.
Authorities confiscated over 70 pounds of fentanyl and 6,000 counterfeit pills in September alone.
Just a small amount of the drug can be deadly — even for law enforcement confiscating it at the border. Two New Jersey police officers nearly fatally collapsed just from sealing a bag they had seized.
“It just really felt like that was it,” one of the New Jersey officers said. “It felt like I was dying. If I could imagine or describe a feeling where your body is just completely shutting down and preparing to stop living, that's the feeling I felt.”
The DOJ and DEA say just a few grains of fentanyl as small as a grain of salt can be lethal.
12 people died and more than 50 people overdosed in Sacramento recently when they used fentanyl, thinking it was OxyContin.
“I see this as an experienced prosecutor as like a death sentence for someone who thinks that they're buying oxy but really they are buying fentanyl because it's cheaper,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Sherri Walker Hobson said.
“It’s extremely profitable for the cartels. They aren’t having to wait for harvest. They aren’t having to harvest the poppy plants. They’re not having to manufacture that paste into heroin. They are literally just getting a chemical from China,” DEA spokeswoman Amy Roderick told NBC 7.
The cartels purchase fentanyl chemicals in China, mix them with a few other chemicals in places like Sinaloa in Mexico and smuggle most of the country’s supply through our borders.