U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents found a record 1 million counterfeit pills laced with fentanyl when they conducted a search of a Inglewood residence on July 5. Photo courtesy of Drug Enforcement Administration/Release
July 15 (UPI) -- Federal agents in California seized some 1 million counterfeit pills laced with fentanyl, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration said, making it the largest-ever fentanyl bust in the state.
The DEA said in a Thursday statement that the pills, which have an estimated street value of $15-20 million, were found when agents executed a search warrant on an Inglewood residence on July 5.
The bust followed an investigation spearheaded in May into a Los Angeles-area drug trafficking organization with ties to the infamous Sinaloa Cartel, it said.
DEA Special Agent in Charge Bill Bodner said that this seizure will disrupt the flow of dangerous drugs onto U.S. streets, "and probably saved many lives."
Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, is 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
The seizure comes months after the DEA issued an alert in late September warning the public of an "surge" in fake prescription pills containing dangerous drugs, such as fentanyl and methamphetamine.
The alert said that agents had seen a 430% increase in the seizure of Fentanyl-laced counterfeit pills since 2019.
Last year in the greater Los Angeles area alone, DEA agents said they confiscated more than 3 million fentanyl pills, representing a 300% increase from the previous year.
And for the first four months of this year, agents in Los Angeles have seized some $1.5 million pills, which is a 64% on-year increase, they said.
Authorities have said that these counterfeit pills are disguised to look identical to prescription drugs such as oxycodone and are sold online over social media platforms.
"The deceptive marketing coupled with the ease of accessibility makes these small and seemingly innocuous pills a significant threat to the health and safety of all our communities," Bodner said. "A staggering number of teens and young adults are unaware that they are ingesting fentanyl in these fake pills and are being poisoned."
The DEA said the drugs coming from the southwest border are stored in local warehouses, storage units and residential properties in the major shipping hub of the greater Los Angeles area where the narcotics are then broken into smaller quantities to be distributed to other states.
The bust also comes amid a U.S. opioid epidemic that federal health officials say is being fueled by fentanyl.
According to the CDC, there were 107,622 drug overdose deaths last year, an increase of some 15% from 2020.
Data also showed that overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids, primarily fentanyl, also continued to rise last year.