The DEA and the Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor for the City of New York announced that some 300,000 rainbow fentanyl pills, as well as 20 pounds of fentanyl in white and blue powder form were seized on Oct. 7.
Some of the fentanyl pills looked like pharmaceutical drugs, including oxycodone and Xanax. Special Narcotics Prosecutor Bridget Brennan said in a statement (pdf) that the rainbow fentanyl pills were worth up to $6 million on the street, and the powdered fentanyl was worth an estimated $3 million.
“The amount of illegal fentanyl concentrated in New York City and trafficked throughout our country is staggering,” Brennan also said. “It is sold as powder, in bright colors, soft pastels or disguised as common pharmaceuticals. Regardless of its appearance, or whether it is purchased on the street or online, it is deadly.”
The seizure represents more than 850,000 deadly doses of fentanyl and fentanyl pills prevented from reaching New York communities.
Police also found a loaded Tec-9 semi-automatic assault weapon, an extended magazine, a box of ammunition, as well as and three scales, 11 GPS devices, and a hydraulic door opener at the same location as the seized fentanyl—an apartment adjacent to the Bronx River Parkway.
Two men, aged 30 and 32, have been charged in connection with the seizure.
The DEA said the seizure was part of its work to disrupt criminal drug cartels, particularly the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) and the Sinaloa Cartel—the two primary criminal organizations from Mexico responsible for the majority of fentanyl in the United States.
Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, is 50 times more potent than heroin. Just two milligrams is potentially enough to be lethal. In 2021, 107,622 Americans died from a drug overdose or poisoning, of which 60 percent were attributed to synthetic opioids like fentanyl.
Rainbow fentanyl is a recent term the DEA has used to refer to fentanyl pills and powder that come in a variety of bright colors, shapes, and sizes, although it is often available in pill form, and in block form as powder. It is “the latest deceptive tactic the cartels are aggressively using to sell more drugs at any cost,” the agency said.
“Rainbow fentanyl is one of many types of deadly fentanyl that ruthless Mexican drug cartels are producing to drive addiction and increase profits,” DEA Administrator Anne Milgram said in a statement.
“Every day, DEA sees Americans of all ages, including young adults and even middle and high school-aged teens, being poisoned by fentanyl in fake pills and powder.
“DEA is committed to protecting our communities and we will stop at nothing to disrupt the criminal drug cartels, making it impossible for them to do business.”
China the Primary Source of Fentanyl Trafficking
Fentanyl is now the leading cause of death for Americans aged between 18 and 45, surpassing suicide, car accidents, and COVID-19, according to a December 2021 report from the U.S. advocacy group Families Against Fentanyl.
Most states in the United States are seeing a surge in fentanyl deaths. According to the group’s report published in February, fentanyl fatalities doubled in 30 states, tripled in 15 states, and nearly five times in six states, in the last two years. Alaska, Colorado, Louisiana, Mississippi, California, and Texas are the six states seeing a nearly five-fold increase in fentanyl deaths.
The DEA previously in its January 2020 report (pdf) identified China as the “primary source” of fentanyl trafficked into the United States.
In February this year, the Commission on Combating Synthetic Opioid Trafficking published a report saying that transnational criminal organizations in Mexico are buying precursor chemicals—the underlying chemical substances of fentanyl—from China.
With precursor chemicals from China, the two Mexico cartels Sinaloa and CJNG can make “an unlimited amount” of fentanyl, Milgram told CBS in August this year. She added that the two cartels “are killing Americans with fentanyl at catastrophic and record rates like we have never seen before.”
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Frank Fang and Naveen Athrappully contributed to this report.