State and federal authorities confiscated 200,000 fentanyl pills, 9.4 pounds of heroin, a kilogram of cocaine and multiple firearms in an operation they say culminated in one of the largest seizures of fentanyl pills in Colorado history.
The Drug Enforcement Agency and the 18th Judicial District Attorney’s Office announced the bust Wednesday in Centennial, saying eight people have been indicted on allegations they were smugglers and distributors in a drug trafficking organization that focused on methamphetamine, heroin and fentanyl, the deadly synthetic opioid.
The case involves a wiretap investigation that began in December and also netted $60,000 in stolen merchandise. The four weapons seized included an AR-15-style rifle and a 9 mm handgun, authorities said.
At the news conference, officials also highlighted the Colorado State Patrol’s recovery last month of 114 pounds of pure fentanyl on Interstate 70 near Georgetown from a vehicle headed toward Denver.
“In my opinion, bulk fentanyl quantities like this hold the caliber of weapons of mass destruction-type concern when we take into consideration the worst possible outcomes of this poison being pushed out in mass to our communities,” said Brian Besser, the special agent in charge of the DEA’s Denver Field Division. “The availability and accessibility of fake pills (laced with fentanyl) right now is absolutely staggering. They are available everywhere and can be obtained with little effort.”
Since 2015, Besser said the drug landscape has shifted considerably, moving from organic heroin to synthetic pills, which are both more discrete and more lucrative for cartels.
Besser said investigators are now seeing fentanyl and other deadly synthetic analogs routinely being mixed with conventional street drugs, including cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines and marijuana.
Unsuspecting users taking drugs they don’t know are laced with fentanyl have created a deadly phenomenon and burgeoning public health crisis in Colorado. More than 900 people died of fentanyl overdoses in Colorado last year, according to the state health department.
Youth are especially vulnerable, Besser said, as they are targeted on social media to purchase these drugs creating an “unparalleled accessibility.”
Both Besser and District Attorney John Kellner stressed the fact that fentanyl pills are not only blue in color, but pink and white. Even fruit-flavored incarnations of the pill are being found, some being etched with the BMW or Mercedes logos, they said.
Besser said he worries that fentanyl could soon be laced into vape products, which are already incredibly popular with many younger users.
Kellner spoke about border security, attributing some of the problems to the ease of accessibility to the United States from the southern border.
“The source of these narcotics originated in Mexico. There is an unindicted co-conspirator that we are yet to identify as the primary source that would coordinate with this drug trafficking ring,” Kellner said.
The Colorado State Patrol reported that it has seized 225 pounds of fentanyl through the first half of this year, compared to 150 pounds in 2021.
“In my 31 years of law enforcement, I have never seen anything like the current drug crisis,” Besser said. “I’ve never seen anything like this. Ever.”