Federal prosecutors are increasingly treating fentanyl overdose deaths as homicides, handing down harsher sentences in a bid to clamp down on opioid dealers.
Sergio Martinez, 28, of Lawrence, Massachusetts, was charged on July 11, for “aiding and encouraging a distribution of fentanyl that resulted in a death,” the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced. If convicted, Martinez faces a mandatory minimum of 20 years behind bars or a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, as well as a fine of up to $10 million.
“New Hampshire knows all too well about the deadly nature of fentanyl,” said U.S. Attorney Scott Murray in a statement. “We are fully committed to ending the opioid epidemic and will continue to work closely with our law enforcement partners to identify and prosecute those who are responsible for distributing fentanyl and other dangerous drugs.”
Fentanyl is a highly potent synthetic opioid that is used to treat severe pain. It is about 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and can be deadly if inhaled or touched. Most of it comes from China via Mexico, which has also started producing the deadly drug.
In previous court documents, the federal government accused Martinez and his brother of running a drug trafficking organization.
“The conspiracy was extensive and organized,” according to the Justice Department. “The Martinez brothers allegedly used a vast network of dispatchers and distributors to serve customers large and small with knowledge that a substantial amount of drugs were going to New Hampshire.”
The Martinez brothers’ allegedly maintained a residence in Lawrence where dispatchers took drug orders over various “customer phones.” These dispatchers would then communicate with distributors who were located throughout the Merrimack Valley to arrange meetings with buyers.
The DOJ executed a number of search warrants on April 9, leading to the seizure of over “30 kilograms of suspected fentanyl, two firearms, and over $500,000 in cash.”
President Donald Trump launched an initiative in March to help reduce the supply and demand of opioids. Part of the initiative involves a prevention campaign, as well as a push to reduce the over-prescription of pain medication by doctors.