SAN DIEGO (CN) – San Diego’s port of entry sees the most seizures of dangerous opioid drugs such as fentanyl of the entire U.S.-Mexico border, top law enforcement officials said Friday in vowing to crack down on opioid trafficking starting with the first local trafficking case against the potent synthetic drug, carfentanil.
More than 75 percent of fentanyl seizures along the southwest border come from San Diego, and there’s been a significant uptick in the amount being seized: fentanyl seizures in San Diego increased 700 percent between 2015 and 2017, from six seizures in 2015 to 54 this year, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
One kilogram of fentanyl costs about $32,000 and can be used to create 1 million counterfeit pills worth more than $20 million. Federal authorities at the border have so far confiscated 480 kilograms of the drug this year, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The drug typically turns up in counterfeit oxycodone pills.
Fentanyl-linked deaths are also up in San Diego County – 40 in the first nine months of 2017 alone, more than in all of 2016. Eleven more cases where fentanyl is suspected as the cause of death await confirmation by the San Diego Medical Examiner’s Office.
Authorities are investigating some of the deaths as possible murder cases against suppliers, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
“This rapid increase in seizures and deaths tells us that we are on a very dangerous trajectory. There is no question that this is an epidemic with legs and it is sprinting,” acting U.S. Attorney Alana Robinson said in a statement. “We will not allow San Diego and Imperial Counties to serve as a fentanyl gateway for the rest of the country.”
Earlier this year, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and other local, state and federal agencies formed a fentanyl working group in San Diego to address the opioid crisis.
But the U.S. Attorney’s Office is even more concerned about fentanyl’s more dangerous cousin carfentanil, which is 100 times stronger than fentanyl and 10,000 time more potent than morphine. Typically used as a sedative for animals like elephants, only a few table salt-sized granules of carfentanil can kill someone, the office warned Friday.
The first case filed locally involving the deadly drug involves Sky Gornik, whom federal prosecutors say trafficked carfentanil, fentanyl and other drugs through the mail over several years.
A small baggie of carfentanil was found during a search of Gornik’s home: The 1.77 grams found amount to 86,000 fatal doses, according to investigators.
Prosecutors have also filed a similar case against former Border Patrol agent Cesar Daleo, who received packages of the fentanyl ingredient “4ANPP” mailed directly from China, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Both cases involved synthetic drugs purchased on the dark web.
The defendants face up to 20 years in prison.
A forum with the U.S. Attorney’s fentanyl work group is scheduled for Nov. 28.