For so long methamphetamine has been the scourge of the Central Valley, but now law enforcement is concerned a new drug — fentanyl — is being introduced to the area, and should it gain the same stranglehold as methamphetamine, it could have deadly consequences.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is highly addictive and powerful, with a potency ranging from 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine, according to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control.
The drug is typically used as a pain reliever for those who have just undergone surgery or are receiving cancer treatment. However, over the last few years the illicit usage of fentanyl has been growing and is responsible for a staggering number of fatal overdoses. In 2017, there were 66,000 overdose deaths in the United States that were attributed to fentanyl, said U.S. Attorney McGregor Scott. The U.S. Attorney was in Modesto Thursday to discuss the dangers of the drug and the local efforts being waged to stop it.
As evidence that the drug does have a presence in the area, law enforcement pointed to a large-scale drug bust in Turlock that could have resulted in a vast amount of the drug being sold on the streets in the community.
The drug bust resulted in the arrest of two suspects — Ramon DeJesus Magana, 40, of Paramount and Maurilio Serrano-Cardenas, 27, of Fontana — and the seizure of five kilograms of fentanyl powder, which Scott said could have been turned into 50,000 doses when pressed into pills.
According to court documents, Magana and Serrano-Cardenas were arrested on Feb. 21, after delivering five kilograms of fentanyl and one kilogram of a chemical that is an immediate precursor to fentanyl (4-ANPP) to an undercover officer in Turlock. The undercover officer had negotiated to pay $30,000 for each kilogram of the controlled substances.
The operation was conducted by a federal task force composed of agents from the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Department, Auburn Police Department, Rocklin Police Department, Placer County Sheriff’s Department, Placer County District Attorney’s Office, California Highway Patrol, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigations, Bureau of Land Management, and the California National Guard. Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathleen A. Servatius is prosecuting the case.
Magana appeared in federal court Friday, while Serrano-Cardenas will make his first appearance on April 19. Both men are charged with conspiring and possessing fentanyl with intent to distribute. They are both free on bond.
The two men were originally charged by the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office but the case was transferred to federal jurisdiction. A federal grand jury handed down the indictment on Thursday.
Scott said fentanyl making it to the streets is being manufactured in China and then shipped to Mexico, where it is mixed with powder before being moved into the United States. There’s no oversight of the whole process, which means any pill could be a fatal dose. The drug is so deadly that the Surgeon General issued a national advisory Thursday that more individuals should start carrying naloxone, more commonly referred to as Narcan, to help people overdosing on the drug.
The vast majority of the overdoses have been reported in states in the Appalachian range, but already fentanyl is showing a presence in California, with a significant number of fatal overdoses in Northern California. The proximity makes law enforcement believe it’s only a matter of time before the Central Valley starts to feel the aftermath.
“We have a real problem here and it is only going to get worse,” Scott said.