Fentanyl, a dangerous narcotic that is 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine, has become a drug that is central the opiate epidemic in many hard-hit areas. For many people, fentanyl is a drug that’s unfamiliar, and many drug users e are unaware of its potency or the added potential for overdose. Fentanyl pills are nearly identical to Oxycontin in size and shape and often have been sold masquerading as oxy on the street. A recent fentanyl ring uncovered in Utah sheds light on how and where these pills are manufactured and how they are distributed.
Federal agents uncovered a fentanyl ring (allegedly) being run by a young man who is a member of the Church of Latter Day Saints, local news station KSL reported. Prosecutors are looking into the possibility that at least 28 deaths are tied to the ring he ran from his basement. The ring, run online from the “dark web”, is once raked in $2.8 million in less than a year. Usually, in these operations, the pill manufacturer sells to drug dealers who then distribute the pills on the street. It’s not yet clear where the fentanyl powder itself came from, but most often it comes from a pharmacy in China.
Brian Besser, the agent on the case for the DEA, said that agents discovered a “pill press” inside the young man’s home that is likely capable of manufacturing several thousand pills per hour. Aaron Michael Shamo, 26, is accused of creating a manufacturing and distribution operation inside his home for a little less than a year. The agents found an “enormous” amount of fentanyl pills. It’s likely that the total number of pills will number in the millions when they’re counted up, Besser told reporters.
Fentanyl use has become more common and more deadly in recent years, especially in Utah.
In Utah, what’s different is that people overdosing on fentanyl are aware that it’s fentanyl that they’re taking. Although scarcely populated, Utah is one of those states where fentanyl has become the drug of choice for those who suffer from substance abuse disorders. And it’s costing lives. Between 2013 and 2015, Utah was seventh in the nation for drug overdose deaths, with an average of 23.4 drug overdose deaths per 100,000. (The average nationwide was 16.3 deaths.)
Sobering statistics show that fentanyl has become the norm in many areas, making its way even into counterfeit pills sold on the streets. Some people take it knowingly, while some people become hooked on the heroin that’s tainted with it. In some places in Midwest, young and old are overdosing at nearly twice the rate as last year due to fentanyl.
This operation in Utah is probably one of many, but agents have described the amount of fentanyl the ring was distributing as “catastrophic” – and even the agents are having to be incredibly cautious working with the evidence. Skin exposure to fentanyl in a non-opioid user can be deadly, and it’s deadly even to some experienced opioid users.
Hopefully this is the first of many suppliers to go down for distributing this deadly substance.