WASHINGTON—Two Texas men pleaded guilty to trafficking more than 10 kilograms (about 22 pounds) of fentanyl through Louisiana, the Department of Justice announced on Sept. 13.
The men had enough fentanyl to kill 5 million people, said Stephen Azzam, special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Louisiana field division.
“Fentanyl is the greatest and the most significant synthetic opioid threat to the United States, including here in Louisiana, where as little as two milligrams is a lethal dose,” Azzam said.
Fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more potent than heroin—two milligrams of fentanyl is a lethal dose for a non-opioid user. It is often mixed with heroin or pressed into fake painkiller pills made to look like real prescription drugs, making them more deadly.
More than 71,500 Americans died of a drug overdose in 2017, according to provisional data released Aug. 15 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 40 percent of those deaths can be attributed to synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, which was originally developed as a painkiller and anesthetic.
Most illicit fentanyl is manufactured in China and is brought through the southwest border or the U.S. postal system.
The two Texans, Felipe Rodriguez, 22, and Brandon Montoya, 24, pleaded guilty to one count of possession with intent to distribute fentanyl.
A Louisiana state trooper found a plastic bag containing an unknown substance during a traffic stop on May 10.
A more thorough search detected 10 plastic one kilogram (2.2 pounds) bags containing fentanyl.
“The defendants … said they had been approached in Houston to travel to California to obtain the drugs,” said a Department of Justice statement. “They were then instructed to drive to Atlanta, Georgia, where they would be paid for the delivery.”
“Fentanyl kills, and drug dealers are selling this highly addictive drug at a growing rate,” U.S. Attorney David Joseph said. “This case alone involved enough fentanyl to kill everybody in the state of Louisiana.”
The defendants face up to 10 years to life in prison, at least five years of supervised release, and a $10 million fine. Sentencing is set for Jan. 31, 2019.