Fentanyl seizures in Eddy County increased since Pecos Valley Drug Task Force agents (PVDTF) reported the first incident of the drug found in Eddy County in 2019.
Agents seized nearly 14,000 fentanyl pills — an amount which only increases as 2021 advances.
PVDTF Cmdr. Lenin Leos said fentanyl seizures are second only to methamphetamine seizures by agents in Eddy County.
He said Eddy County’s first fentanyl seizure was in the summer of 2019. For the last six months of that year, he said 1,740 pills were seized by agents.
The next year the amount of seized pills increased to 3,147 and through mid-June 2021, more than 9,000 pills were seized.
What is fentanyl?
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) cited fentanyl — a synthetic opioid typically used to treat patients with chronic severe pain or severe pain — as a Schedule II controlled substance similar to morphine but about 100 times more potent.
“Under the supervision of a licensed medical professional, fentanyl has a legitimate medical use. Patients prescribed fentanyl should be monitored for potential misuse or abuse,” read the DEA’s website.
According to the DEA, illicit fentanyl, primarily manufactured in “foreign clandestine labs” and smuggled into the United States through Mexico, is being distributed across the country and sold on the illegal drug market.
A flooded fentanyl drug market in Carlsbad has driven down the price
“Initially in 2019, when these pills first hit, we were saying they were costing $60 a pill in the Carlsbad area,” Leos said.
Nearly two years later, he said the price dropped to $10 to $20 a pill, making them an affordable, but dangerous, street drug.
“Early on in 2019 it was hard to have fentanyl. If you had it, you were the guy to go to,” Leos said.
“What the drug dealers are telling us now in Carlsbad, it is harder to sell these pills because everybody has them.”
Leos said a flooded fentanyl market in Carlsbad drove down the price.
Fentanyl pills range in color from blue to dark blue and the pill can be identified by the letter M on one side and the number 30 on the other. Leos said agents were instructed to make fentanyl a priority after the first seizures in 2019.
“This one of our biggest drug threats that we have here in southern Eddy County,” Leos said.
He said users of hard drugs like heroin switched to fentanyl.
“Carlsbad has seen a substantial amount more than Artesia does as far as fentanyl use and trafficking,” Leos said.
How Operation Wave Breaker has disrupted fentanyl trafficking
DEA announced plans to disrupt the flow of fentanyl from Mexico into the United States with the new initiative on April 29.
“Project Wave Breaker will direct interdiction, enforcement, and outreach efforts to the El Paso Division to disrupt the flow of fentanyl in and around the United States,” said Carlos Briano, spokesperson for the DEA’s El Paso Field Division.
“The initiative will also employ analytical intelligence assets to target the activities of Mexican transnational criminal organizations, which are the primary suppliers and distributors of illicit fentanyl and fentanyl substances throughout the United States.”
He said the operation resulted from a massive wave of synthetic fentanyl trafficked into the United States from Mexico.
DEA’s El Paso territory stretched from Midland, Texas to San Juan County, New Mexico.
Briano said DEA seized 159 kilograms of fentanyl through July of this year.
Fentanyl seizures were low in 2019 with 54 kilograms and 41 kilograms in 2020.
“Unfortunately, the wave of counterfeit pills laced with fentanyl has not slowed. Transnational cartels continue to flood their poison into our nation’s communities, including those in New Mexico,” Briano said.
DEA’s website indicated, fentanyl was mixed in with other illicit drugs to increase the potency of the drug, sold as powders and nasal sprays, and increasingly pressed into pills made to look like legitimate prescription opioids.
“Because there is no official oversight or quality control, these counterfeit pills often contain lethal doses of fentanyl, with none of the promised drug,” read the website.
The lethal dose of fentanyl is 2.2 milligrams, and the average amount of fentanyl in the pills DEA seize was 1.8 milligrams said Kyle W. Williamson, special agent in charge of DEA’s El Paso Division in a news release.
“There isn’t much room for error. Every pill we seize from these profit-seeking cartels is a potential life saved,” he said.
Mike Smith can be reached at 575-628-5546 or by email at MSmith@currentargus.com or @ArgusMichae on Twitter.