Two Denver men have been charged for possession of a significant amount of fentanyl, a Schedule II controlled substance, with intent to distribute. The discovery of nearly a kilogram of the highly potent synthetic opioid, 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine, triggered a public health warning earlier this month. It’s the first time Denver police have seen fentanyl in black-tar-like form.
According to an affidavit written by Brian T. Jeffers, a task force officer with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, at 5:30 a.m. on November 1, a Denver police SWAT team raided the house of Gilbert Franco Garcia and Jesus Aviles-Higuera, at 4860 West Mexico Avenue, just east of Sheridan Boulevard. Hidden in their dressers, closets and a van outside were a handgun and large amounts of various drugs, including several bricks of what police suspected was black-tar heroin. A forensic lab analysis later revealed 890 grams of what was actually fentanyl. Another 150-gram brick was mostly composed of fentanyl, and 138 pills police suspected were oxycodone were also fentanyl. Police also seized 76 grams of cocaine and another 402 grams of heroin.
Officials are concerned the fentanyl may be marketed as heroin or cut into heroin. Since Colorado's supply is mostly black-tar heroin rather than white powder, this form of fentanyl may more easily make its way into the drug supply on the streets.
The office of U.S. Attorney for Colorado Jason Dunn is handling the case. "We're starting to see a rise in other types and forms [of fentanyl]," Dunn says. "It's a growing problem. We're trying to stay on top of the pathways."
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This recent seizure is "scary for a couple reasons," he continues. "It appeared to be something new in the marketplace. There was a concern that users were in a situation where they could be be taking something extremely fatal. And it raises concerns about whether there is a new strategy in introducing fentanyl in Colorado."
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Because the drug dramatically increases the risk of overdose, public health officials are warning drug users to take precautions by taking less, snorting instead of injecting, or injecting more slowly, having at least two doses of naloxone (an overdose-reversal medication) and someone to monitor them nearby.
Dunn also says that the U.S. Attorney will charge traffickers for overdoses that result in deaths from products they sell. His office is prosecuting several active cases involving the possession and distribution of fentanyl pills.
An investigation is being conducted by the Denver Police Department and the Regional Anti-Violence Enforcement Network. Both men are in federal custody and will appear for a preliminary hearing later this week. Garcia, a U.S. citizen, has a record of several previous drug-related offenses. Aviles-Higuera's citizenship status was undetermined.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Peter McNeilly is prosecuting this case. The minimum sentence for the charge is ten years in prison.