26 people indicted in fake drug trafficking crackdown

A two-year investigation by US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has resulted in charges being levelled against 26 defendants accused of trafficking in falsified pharmaceuticals.

So far, 17 of the people who have been indicted have been taken into custody, according to ICE, and one – Raul Barajas-Padilla – has made an initial court appearance. Efforts are ongoing to apprehend the remaining defendants.

The trafficking conspiracy involved a Mexico-based network who coordinated shipments of counterfeit pills laced with fentanyl, powder fentanyl, heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine into the US, exposing once again the close links between the falsified medicines and drugs trade.

During the investigation, agents seized more than 478,000 counterfeit pharmaceutical pills laced with fentanyl, as well as about 51 kilograms of methamphetamine, 10 kilograms of cocaine, 4 kilograms of powder fentanyl, and 4 kilograms of heroin.

The massive operation extended from a location in Sinaloa, Mexico, to the US and involved distributors in the US, couriers who transported the drugs, the people who managed stash houses, and those involved in smuggling the proceeds back to the cartel.

Fentanyl is one of the main drivers for an epidemic in opioid-related deaths still sweeping the US, with the number of seized pills containing the drug rising from 42,200 in 2018 to almost 2.1 million last year.

The drug – which is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine – was responsible for almost half of the 67,000 drug overdose deaths in the US in 2018.

"Drug cartels, such as the Sinaloa cartel, are driving addiction and overdose deaths in the US," commented DEA Special Agent in Charge Shelly S Howe.

"This extensive investigation demonstrates DEA's resolve to hold drug dealers accountable for their destruction and to prevent massive amounts of fentanyl pills and other addictive drugs from being sold to our citizens."

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