The Rise and Fall of an Eagle Scout’s Deadly Fentanyl Empire...
A COLLEGE DROPOUT FROM PHOENIX MADE MILLIONS FROM A FENTANYL TRAFFICKING EMPIRE BUILT WITH NOT MUCH MORE THAN HIS COMPUTER AND A FEW FRIENDS
Published 6:00 a.m. MT Sept. 15, 2019
"SALT LAKE CITY — The photo that flashed onto the courtroom screen showed a young man dead on his bedroom floor, bare feet poking from the cuffs of his rolled-up jeans. Lurking on a trash can at the edge of the picture was what prosecutors said delivered this death: an ordinary, U.S. Postal Service envelope.
It had arrived with 10 round, blue pills inside, the markings of pharmaceutical-grade oxycodone stamped onto the surface. The young man took out two, crushed and snorted them. But the pills were poison, prosecutors said: counterfeits containing fatal grains of fentanyl, a potent synthetic opioid that has written a deadly new chapter in the American opioid epidemic.
The envelope was postmarked from the suburbs of Salt Lake City."
"How he and his friends managed to flood the country with a half-million fake oxycodone pills reveals the ease with which fentanyl now moves around the world, threatening to expand the epidemic beyond America's borders. It is so potent, so easy to transport, experts say, large-scale traffickers no longer require sophisticated networks to send it to any corner of the globe. All they need is a mailbox, internet access and people with an appetite for opioids."
"The case against Shamo detailed how white powder up to 100 times stronger than morphine was bought online from a laboratory in China and arrived in Utah via international mail; it was shaped into perfect-looking replicas of oxycodone tablets in the press that thumped in Shamo's basement and resold on the internet's black markets. Then it was routed back into the postal system in thousands of packages addressed to homes across this country awash with prescription painkiller addiction."
THE OPIOID CRISIS EXPLAINED
"This crisis began in the 1990s and has since spiraled into waves, each worse than the one before: Prescription opioids spread addiction, then a crackdown on prescribing paved the road to heroin, which led to fentanyl — a synthetic opioid made entirely in a laboratory. Traffickers added it to heroin to boost its potency and profitability. That transition happened slowly at first, then with extraordinary ferocity.
By 2017, deaths from synthetic opioids had increased more than 800 percent, to 28,466, dragging the United States' overall life expectancy down for a third consecutive year for the first time in a century. Fentanyl deaths have been reported abroad, in Canada, Sweden, Estonia, the United Kingdom. Countries with surging prescription opioid addiction, like Australia, fear they are on the brink."
"Shabbir Safdar, the Partnership for Safe Medicines' executive director, said the first known death from a fentanyl-laced pill was in San Francisco in October 2015.
It was a frightening development: The DEA estimates 3.4 million Americans misuse prescription painkillers, compared to 475,000 heroin users — meaning the pool potentially exposed is 10 times bigger."
WHERE ARE OPIOIDS COMING FROM?
"There are two sources of supply. Mexican cartels and packages shipped direct from China, where it is produced in a huge and under-regulated chemical sector. A Senate investigation last year found massive quantities of fentanyl pouring in from China through the Postal Service. The report largely blamed dated technology that left customs inspectors sifting through packages manually looking for "the proverbial needle in a haystack." The Postal Service wrote in a statement to The Associated Press that it is working hard with its international counterparts to close those loopholes, and is improving its technology to intercept fentanyl shipments."