Two combined federal and local narcotics investigations in recent weeks netted the largest haul of the deadly synthetic opioid fentanyl in New York City history, disrupting what officials said Monday were retail drug operations trafficking throughout the metropolitan area.
In raids conducted between Aug. 1 and Sept. 5, investigators seized more than 140 pounds of pure fentanyl, as well as 75 pounds of fentanyl mixed with heroin. Large amounts of heroin and cocaine were also seized in the raids.
Investigators with the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, the NYPD Queens Narcotics squad and the office of city Special Narcotics prosecutor Bridget Brennan, took part in the raids.
“The sheer volume of fentanyl pouring into the city is shocking,” Brennan said in a statement. “It’s not only killing a record number of people in New York City but the city is used as a hub of regional distribution for a lethal substance that is taking thousands of lives throughout the Northeast.”
The combined street value for the drugs was estimated at $32 million, officials said.
The raids of apartments in Kew Gardens on Aug. 1, and a Toyota Siena in the Bronx on Sept. 5 also turned up 12 pounds of pure heroin and 13 pounds of cocaine, said Kati Cornell, a spokeswoman for Brennan.
She said four suspects, including three men and one woman, all city residents, face first-degree drug trafficking charges as well as other offenses.
Cornell said the investigations were kept confidential until the completion of NYPD drug lab tests.
In a statement, NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill said the seizures were a “milestone” in the fight against fentanyl. The cases are being handled by the Manhattan, Queens and Bronx district attorneys offices.
In recent years fentanyl has become a public menace, its high potency contributing to half of the 1,374 accidental drug overdoses in New York City in 2016, up 47 percent from 2015, according to city health department statistics. The latest preliminary data from the department through March 31 showed the city on an overdose pace slightly above last year, with 334 deaths compared to 304 in same period of 2016.
In Suffolk and Nassau counties, the death toll death from opiod overdoses spiked to 524 in 2016, up from 493, the year before. There were 329 fatalities for Suffolk and 195 for Nassau in 2016, according to records.
Officials believe the fentanyl seized in the latest raids came from Mexico, where drug cartels are manufacturing the opioid with precursors obtained from China. The drugs had been premixed before the suspects acquired them, according to investigators.
The deadly combination of fentanyl and heroin is taking more lives in Queens this year than homicide, noted Queens District Attorney Richard Brown in a statement in connection with the latest arrests.