Law enforcement officials are warning that the fentanyl crisis is reaching “unprecedented” levels and are taking an array of steps to combat the spread of the drug.
Over just the past two months, agents with Homeland Security Investigation (HIS) seized as much fentanyl as they did in all of 2019, demonstrating the rise of fentanyl on the streets and also the increased efforts by law enforcement to confiscate it.
U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada of the Central District of California warned of the dangers of the drug in a recent press release.
“Fentanyl has painted a trail of death across the country, across our district and across our community. The crisis today is unprecedented.”
According to Estrada, there were 71,000 deaths in the United States last year, with 1,600 of those being in L.A. County.
DEA Los Angeles Special Agent in Charge Bill Bodner said that Los Angeles is an important distribution center for fentanyl smuggled into the country by Mexican cartels.
“Violent drug cartels, specifically the Sinaloa Cartel and Jalisco New Generation Cartel, are deliberately pushing deadly fentanyl into our communities with complete disregard for human lives in an effort to maximize their profits,” Bodner said in the press release.
The pills are often disguised to look like painkillers or oxycodone and, in some cases, are manufactured tolook like candy.
According to Bodner, drug overdoses among young people is a particularly concerning problem.
Indeed, a report from the Journal of the American Medical Association found that teen overdoses more than doubled from 2019 to 2020 and further increased the following year. Fentanyl accounted for 77% of drug deaths (884 in total) among teens in 2021.
Estrada, along with officials from the Department of Justice, FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration and U.S. Postal Inspection Service, said law enforcement agencies are working together to protect the public.
“This poison is targeting our young people, causing untold damage to families, neighborhoods and our entire nation. We are fighting back. We have dramatically ramped up our efforts to stem the flow of narcotics, vigorously prosecute those directly responsible for peddling this poison and respond in innovative ways to improve public safety and educate the public,” Estrada stated.
Bodner added that the DEA is targeting all individuals involved in the fentanyl supply chain.
The announcement comes after a federal grand jury indicted a Cerritos man on November 18 on charges relating to distributing and manufacturing fentanyl in labs in Inglewood and Compton and then selling the drugs on the darknet.
Christopher Hampton, 36, sold around $2 million in fentanyl pills before he was caught.
Hampton was ultimately named in an 11-count indictment and charged with various narcotics and weapons offenses. Now, he could face life in prison.
Leading up to Hampton’s arrest, agents with the FBI, DEA, HSI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), along with U.S. postal inspectors executed search warrants where they seized up to 450 pounds of narcotics, six pill press machines and illegal firearms such as assault rifles and a machine gun.
Agents also recovered more than 20,000 rainbow-colored fentanyl pills known as “skittles” at Hampton’s home.
“This case illustrates how some traffickers have created all-encompassing networks to sell counterfeit pills,” Estrada said.
According to Don Alway, the assistant director in charge of the FBI’s L.A. Field Office, the department’s Joint Criminal Opioid and Darknet Enforcement Team (J-CODE) has arrested over 300 drug traffickers on the darknet and seized approximately 800 kilograms of narcotics and 145 firearms for a combined value of $42 million.
“Every parent and guardian must educate themselves and their children of all ages about poisonous fentanyl-laced drugs being sold on social media applications and via the darknet,” Alway said.
Federal officials are also going after those responsible for overdose deaths. The Overdose Justice Taskforce, formed in 2018, aims to investigate fentanyl poisonings and prosecute dealers responsible.
Since the task force’s inception, the DOJ has charged 51 defendants connected to fatal overdoses.