Federal and state law enforcement officials are aggressively prosecuting crimes involving fentanyl, the Washington Post reports. They are using statutes that were once rarely used, treating overdose deaths as homicides, seizing enormous quantities of the drug and charging foreign nationals with wide-ranging conspiracies. The push comes as fentanyl is driving a spike in opioid overdoses, which killed more than 42,000 people in 2016. The Centers for Disease Control said fentanyl — a synthetic opioid so powerful that just a few grains of it can be fatal — is responsible for nearly half of those deaths. Prosecutors are using any and all means to mitigate damage from the drug, which is coming from Mexico and China and is often found mixed into heroin and cocaine and sometimes is pressed into counterfeit prescription pills. Federal prosecutors charged 267 people with fentanyl-related crimes in the 2017 fiscal year, compared with 74 in FY 2016.
In Omaha on Thursday, federal authorities charged two New Jersey men with possession with intent to distribute fentanyl after Nebraska State Patrol troopers seized more than 118 pounds of the drug during a traffic stop along Interstate 80. The troopers initially suspected that the foil-wrapped fentanyl was cocaine. Nebraska has one of the nation’s lowest rates of opioid overdose, but it has seen some of the country’s largest fentanyl seizures. Since October, law enforcement agencies in the state have seized about 300 pounds of fentanyl, said Matthew Barden, who will head a new Drug Enforcement Administration field office in the state. Local prosecutions also have skyrocketed as some states enact tougher laws against fentanyl. Prosecutors also are increasingly charging the people who supplied a drug user with a fatal dose of fentanyl, turning to various types of murder and manslaughter charges.