(WASHINGTON) — New details of a federal investigation into a “massive” fentanyl ring were released Monday as officials announced 11 additional suspects — out of 23 total in custody — had been arrested in connection with the illegal sale and distribution of the ultra-deadly synthetic opioid, which health officials say is a major factor in the country’s overdose epidemic.
“Fentanyl is the greatest threat to Americans today,” the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Anne Milgram, told reporters at a news conference.
“It is devastating families across our country and killing Americans from all walks of life,” Milgram said. “And it is the leading cause of death today in the United States for Americans between the age of 18 and 45.”
Authorities said their investigation began with the overdose death of 20-year-old mother Diamond Lynch.
Lynch died almost instantly in Washington, D.C., in April 2021 after taking a pill that had been made to look like the prescription pain medication Oxycodone, Milgram said.
Officials described how Lynch’s supplier had caused her to overdose in the past before eventually providing her with the deadly fake pill that killed her.
“Our investigation did not stop there, though,” said Matthew Graves, the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia. “We uncovered leads that pointed to a massive fentanyl distribution network.”
“This was a conspiracy that flooded the District of Columbia with fake pills containing fentanyl dangerously marked, as they so often are, with ‘M-30’ imprints to resemble legally manufactured Oxycodone,” Graves said.
Federal officials along with D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department have been rooting out the narcotics network, which investigators said has a footprint in other parts of the country, including California, Maryland, Tennessee and Virginia.
Authorities now have 23 defendants in custody, have seized more than 40 pounds of fentanyl powder, about a quarter-million pills and 30 firearms, including six machine guns, Graves said. Twenty-six total people have been charged, according to officials.
Charges against the accused include conspiracy to distribute fentanyl. Some of the suspects are further charged with conspiracy to commit international money laundering and possession with intent to distribute fentanyl
Milgram said the defendants had pushed more than a million fentanyl pills into the district.
Wholesale prices ranged from 30 cents to $3 before the sale of the $30 pill that killed Lynch and sparked the federal investigation two years ago, Milgram said.
Some mainstream social media sites have been used by criminals to market fentanyl and connect buyers with suppliers, according to law enforcement. Authorities in this case said they were able to acquire search warrants to uncover the communications that informed the conspiracy charges.
“The criminals are making so much money off of each sale that they don’t care if they kill Americans in the process,” Milgram said. “Especially because when it comes to modern drug conspiracies like this one, most of the people involved never met in person.”
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