Cops Found (And Confiscated) 32 Million Lethal Doses Of Fentanyl In Huge Busts

The street value of the fentanyl is approximately $30 million.


In two drug busts that happened about a month apart, New York City officials confiscated enough of the opioid fentanyl to cause 32 million people to overdose. Fentanyl is 50 times as powerful as heroin.

The two busts totaled 195 pounds and were not just large in impact, but large in size. The street value of the fentanyl they seized was about $30 million.

Bridget Brennan, New York City's special narcotics prosecutor, told A Plus that the busts could have long-lasting positive impacts.

"The amount of fentanyl that we seized is also significant because of the number of deaths it can cause," Brennan said. "The minuscule amount of fentanyl which is potentially lethal is about two or three milligrams. So there was enough fentanyl in these seizures to kill about 32 million people."

The drug busts represent a much-needed victory in a year that has yielded very little good news in the battle against the United States' opioid epidemic. In New York City alone, Brennan said overdose rates have gone up 46 percent in the last year, which the City Health Department attributes to the influx of fentanyl, a drug often cut with heroin. A New York Times report said drug deaths increased by 19 percent from 2015 to 2016, and preliminary data for 2017 says it continues to worsen. At one high school in Pennsylvania, a mother told that she has counted almost 100 students that have died of overdoses from her son's graduating class of 890.

The first bust, on August 1, 2017, turned up over 140 pounds of fentanyl, making it the biggest pure fentanyl bust in the city's history. Then, on September 5, police seized another 53 pounds of fentanyl-laced heroin and two pounds of pure fentanyl, according to NBC New York. 

"The fentanyl seizures, the two of them together, were enormous," Brennan told A Plus. "I think they will have a huge impact on the availability of fentanyl not just in the New York City area but in the surrounding regions... our great hope is that by taking this drug off the street we're able to save many, many lives."

Fentanyl's strength and potency have almost turned into folklore. Stories of people overdosing just by touching the drug have spread from state to state, and some police officers have even claimed to overdose after skin contact with the substance. Trafficking experts believe the majority of fentanyl is coming in from China, where fentanyl patches are produced for end of life patients with serious pain.

Brennan said that utility is exactly what makes the drug so dangerous. Because it is transdermal by design, it can be lethal even to touch. So it's not hard to imagine what happens when it's laced with heroin or sold as a pure drug. 

"To us, it's not a legend," Brennan said. "To us, it's a very real, serious problem of potential exposure for our officers and investigators but also for some of the other people who work in the office."

As a precaution, Brennan said both New York City officers and investigators have begun using special gloves and masks in drug busts and in the lab. They even give analysts in the lab who may be conducting a search warrant on a phone lessons on how to use naloxone, the popular overdose antidote. 

Brennan knows New York City is a hub for transporting the drug and a popular place for gangs and users to come and and purchase it cheaply.. She hopes these busts will create a scarcity that ultimately makes it harder for people to find the drug — but she said law enforcement needs to do more than just seize drugs. That's why New York City launched a public service announcement aimed at 25- to 34-year-olds, the group most at-risk for overdoses, on the dangers of fentanyl. The information campaign is called Fentanyl Kills NYC.

"We're trying in many, many ways to inform people so they never even starting doing these drugs," Brennan said. "But also to start removing these drugs from the street, which — the impact might not be felt today or tomorrow — but it will be felt long-term."

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