Nearly 1.7 million fentanyl pills allegedly connected to Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel were seized in Arizona this week — a record bust in the state, police and federal authorities said.
The massive seizure announced Thursday by Scottsdale police and Drug Enforcement Administration officials had an estimated street value of $9 million and may have saved hundreds of thousands of lives.
“The pills in front of you are death, that’s what they are,” Scottsdale Police Chief Jeff Walther told reporters. “Fentanyl, which has really hit the market for us, is what is driving our opioid crisis not just in Arizona, not just in this region, but across the country.”
The sheer amount of fentanyl was likely destined to be distributed locally and nationally, Walther said.
“This is not a recreational drug,” he said. “This is death.”
An investigation began months earlier when Scottsdale police and DEA officials in Phoenix identified a courier suspected of transporting drugs for the Sinaloa Cartel, the police chief said. The unprecedented trove was found in several stash houses and storage lockers throughout the region.
In addition to 360 pounds of fentanyl pills, investigators recovered 10 kilos of powdered fentanyl and 1 pound of methamphetamine — valued at an estimated $9 million altogether, Walther said.
The bust marked the single biggest one-time seizure of fentanyl in Arizona history, according to Cheri Oz, special agent in charge of the DEA’s Phoenix field division.
Some 700,000 lives were potentially saved by the historic bust, Oz said. The DEA has seized a record 20 million fentanyl pills nationwide this year, including more than 9.5 million in Arizona alone.
“One pill one time can kill,” Oz said, noting that the US had logged more than 100,000 drug overdoses over a 12-month span, a surge of nearly 30 percent over the previous year. Just four states — New Jersey, Delaware, New Hampshire and South Dakota — saw drug overdoses decrease during the 12-month period ending in April.
“Criminal drug networks are fueling this unprecedented overdose epidemic, flooding our communities with counterfeit, fake pills,” Oz said. “That is a life lost in this country every five minutes — every five minutes we lose someone to opioids.”
Four out of every 10 pills seized had a lethal dose. Over a two-month span, DEA officials in Phoenix seized 3 million pills, 45 pounds of fentanyl powder, 35 firearms and arrested more than 40 alleged drug traffickers, Oz said.
“Like the chief said, we are dealing with death right here,” Oz told reporters. “One pill can kill, one pill, one time.”