Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, which is up to 100 times stronger than heroin and sometimes used as a prescription drug (painkiller) for the terminally ill, just can’t stop buzzing over the past few months.
The drug which recently overtook heroin as the leading cause of US drug deaths seems to be making waves because of its perceived ease of smuggling along with versatility and profitability, making it hard for people to keep their hands off it.
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It’s being purchased by people with opioid addictions looking for the most potent dose on the street and also by unsuspecting consumers looking for cheap pain pills from the dark web.
Many arrests have been made this year, an example being the 25-year-old Kyle Enos from Newport, South Wales, who was charged with importing, supplying and exporting class A drugs after officers zoomed in on him using the dark web to purchase fentanyl.
The latest addition now is Khaled Azzam, a 28-year-old man from Liverpool who has admitted to shipping synthetic drugs similar to fentanyl and bath salts from China.
Azzam this week pleaded guilty to charges of conspiring to distribute the drugs and money laundering. Reports emerging from this case also suggest that Azzam after having the synthetic drugs shipped from China, and then directed it to numerous locations in Central New York.
Investigators had suspected Azzam of ordering the synthetic drugs from contacts he met on the dark web who happened to be Chinese manufacturers. His arrest followed in May, an operation done by the Drug Enforcement Administration in attempts to investigate “large-scale” drug trafficking.
40 years in prison is what Azzam is facing now for admitting to those crimes with his sentencing scheduled for January.
Recent surveys clearly indicate that drug-related deaths are growing in the UK, and the issue of fentanyl is on a whole different level now after being linked to over 60 deaths in the last eight months.
The National Crime Agency stated that, since 2016 December, results of post-mortem results indicated that, 60 people who died from drug overdoses had fentanyl or a related substance in their system with further 70 suspected cases yet to be tested.
Azzam was arrested together with a man who was accused of being his accomplice after agents resorted to the use of confidential informants, undercover deals, surveillance and wiretapping to receive the shipments.
After the drugs were tested, they realized that getting the fentanyl and the club drug “Molly” he ordered via the dark web weren’t always possible and so he blended synthetic drugs designed to simulate them.
Azzam’s strategy came to light after DEA agents broke into a stash house in Syracuse, where they found two kilograms of Molly, half a kilo of heroin and also half a kilo of fentanyl.
The informant who also happened to be the person running the stash house informed the police that Azzam was a supplier and even agreed to wear a wire to a secret undercover deal.
The informant then proceeded to order a kilogram of fentanyl from Azzam for an amount of $25,000. Azzam then sent the money to his Chinese supplier in exchange to have the fentanyl shipped to Central New York.
Azzam then met up with the informant at Dunkin Donuts on North Salina Street, where he sold the drug which after testing was revealed as a synthetic opioid called U-47700.
30-year-old Vincent Testa of Syracuse was also arrested by investigators after suggesting that he aided in the illegal activities by receiving drug shipments at his home.
Testa was paid $500 for each transaction he made which includes wiring money to the suppliers in China or receiving a package of drugs through the mail according to court reports. He is, however, being held in jail with his case pending.
Additional reports also revealed that Azzam had drugs shipped to his family’s home located in Liverpool and also a Metro PCS store where he worked in Auburn.
According to investigations, the primary source of fentanyl is China, where there are over thousands of illegal labs led by rogue chemists who manufacture fentanyl and other analog substances.
A higher percentage of drug overdoses in the UK thought to have involved fentanyl and carfentanil, however, is in the Yorkshire and the Humber region.