An 18-month DEA investigation, stemming from the discovery of Fentanyl on the streets of Bremerton, culminated late Wednesday night with agents swarming homes and cars in five counties.
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) said they’ve linked the sales with a cartel in Sinaloa, Mexico.
“Over 400 officers, spanning out over five counties – from South Pierce all the way up to Snohomish County,” said Keith Weis, Special Agent in Charge of the Seattle DEA office.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office said Thursday that nearly 30 people have been arrested locally. Federal agents in six other states are investigating the same cartel for drug sales and distribution, according to the Department of Justice.
Much of what law enforcement focused on during the investigation are pills that Weis calls “Mexi-blues,” or OxyContin laced with Fentanyl. Pills, he said, that look like they were produced by a pharmaceutical company.
But, Weis cautions, the pills were made in a “clandestine laboratory” in Mexico and the amount of Fentanyl in each pill is simply unknown.
“It just takes one pill to kill somebody,” Weis said, adding that the federal investigation, “culminated with the identification of a transnational criminal organization that was responsible for pouring in thousands of Fentanyl-laced pills and heroin into our communities.”
Fentanyl, a synthetic opiate, is 50 or 100 times stronger than Morphine. Weis said some people don’t know that the OxyContin they’re buying illegally is laced with Fentanyl, which he says is cheap to produce.
On Wednesday, the Washington Department of Health announced that Fentanyl-related deaths are soaring. There were 81 overdose deaths in the first half of this year, there were 48 in the first half of 2017.
Weis said Fentanyl is the number one focus for the DEA nationally. He said each “Mexi-blue” pill has a street value of nearly $30.
“I would caution anyone distributing opioids in the public they will be met with a significant law enforcement response,” Weis said.
Weis believes the arrests will have a significant impact on the drug cartel, or at least create enough of a break in sales so addicts can get help from treatment providers.