The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has seized approximately one million pills laced with fentanyl allegedly linked to the Sinaloa Cartel in what authorities say is the biggest bust for the drug in California history.
The seizure happened earlier this month in Inglewood, California, after the DEA's Los Angeles Field Division High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) Group 48, along with the DEA New York Division Tactical Diversion Squad and Hawthorne Police Department, had been investigating a Los Angeles-area drug trafficking organization since May that authorities believed was linked to the Sinaloa Cartel.
"DEA agents identified Southern California narcotic couriers and stash house managers who were responsible for distributing narcotics to other drug distributors in the area," the DEA said in a press release regarding the seizure.
Authorities subsequently obtained a federal search warrant and executed the drug bust on July 5 at a residence in Inglewood which resulted in the seizure of approximately one million fake pills laced with fentanyl that were intended for retail distribution with an estimated street value of between $15 to $20 million.
"This massive seizure disrupted the flow of dangerous amounts of fentanyl into our streets and probably saved many lives," said DEA Special Agent in Charge Bill Bodner. "The deceptive marketing coupled with the ease of accessibility makes these small and seemingly innocuous pills a significant threat to the health and safety of all our communities. A staggering number of teens and young adults are unaware that they are ingesting fentanyl in these fake pills and are being poisoned."
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine and is a synthetic opioid that is approved for treating severe pain but can often be diverted for abuse and misuse.
"Most recent cases of fentanyl-related harm, overdose, and death in the U.S. are linked to illegally made fentanyl," the CDC warns on their website. "It is sold through illegal drug markets for its heroin-like effect. It is often mixed with heroin and/or cocaine as a combination product -- with or without the user's knowledge -- to increase its euphoric effects."
More than 107,000 Americans have died as a result of fentanyl overdose or poisoning, according to the CDC.
"Criminal drug networks in Mexico are mass-producing illicit fentanyl and fake pills pressed with fentanyl in filthy, clandestine, unregulated labs," the DEA warned in their statement. "These fake pills are designed to look like real prescription pills right down to the size, shape, color and stamping. These fake pills typically replicate real prescription opioid medications such as oxycodone (Oxycontin, Percocet), hydrocodone (Vicodin), and alprazolam (Xanax); or stimulants like amphetamines (Adderall)."
According to the DEA, Los Angeles is a major transport and shipment hub for illegal drugs coming from the U.S.-Mexico border and are often stored in warehouses, storage units and residential properties in the region.
"The bulk shipments of drugs are usually broken down into smaller quantities and transported to other states or distributed to local dealers," the DEA said. "The greater Los Angeles area has many international airports, freeways, and bus and train lines that make it easy for shipments to be smuggled to other destinations.
The DEA, however, has been getting more successful year on year at stopping and seizing drug shipments. The DEA offices in Los Angeles seized approximately three million fentanyl pills in 2021 -- close to three times the amount seized in 2020. And, in the first four months alone of 2022, DEA Los Angeles have seized an estimated 1.5 million of the pills -- a 64% increase over the same period in 2021.
This investigation into the drug trafficking organization is ongoing.