Florida fentanyl suspects filling jail cells while overdose victims fill morgues

(As originally published with bells and whistles, Fri, October 28th 2022, 1:10 PM EDT)

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (CBS12) — Federal, state and local authorities are teaming up around Florida to fight the latest drug infestation, which is also the deadliest.

The pills come in different shapes and bright colors.

This week alone:

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Thursday, three people were arrested when the Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office said its Narcotics Task Force & Special Response Team — along with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement — raided a home.

Wednesday, two arrests for bringing almost 15 grams of fentanyl into Martin County. The sheriff’s office said they were among dealers working to enhance and market their product by mixing colored fentanyl with cocaine and heroin.

Last Saturday, a woman in Marion County with a warrant for possession of drug paraphernalia was found with fentanyl.

Just the day before, 11 pounds of fentanyl, which Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd explained was enough to kill 2.7 million people.

He pointed to two kilos of the fentanyl concealed in a Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal box, three kilos in a yellow Igloo cooler, and dealer suspect Ignacio Rodriguez warning undercover detectives to be careful not to overdose. In fact, he recommended they wear masks and gloves, and drink milk before to help with feelings of tightness in their chests.

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Judd credited the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, state attorney’s office, U.S Border Patrol; U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office for their help.

What he said — “This poison is coming into the country across the border from Mexico, and we are going to continue our investigation into the Mexican drug cartels who are killing innocent people” — may be partially political.

Gov. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., has been saying the same thing while bashing President Biden for the border crisis.

“I signed legislation raising the penalties for people who are trafficking fentanyl and fentanyl analogues,” he said during Monday’s CBS12 gubernatorial debate with Charlie Crist, moderated by Liz Quirantes. “If you’re trafficking that garbage, that poison, you are killing people in our state, and we are going to treat you like the murderer that you are.”

The statistics don’t lie.

Fentanyl overdoses killed more than 107,000 people in the U.S. so far this year, and it has become the leading cause of death for people 18-45, according to Families Against Fentanyl founder James Rauh who also said, “now we’re seeing an alarming increase in news reports of toddlers being killed by this poison, unaware of what they’re ingesting.”

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Another 15,000 pills were found trafficked in a children’s toy box. (U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration via Fla. Attorney General’s Office)

Just weeks ago in Boynton Beach, a 10-month-old baby girl ingested fentanyl and died. A woman was charged with aggravated manslaughter of a child.

In Indian River County, there have been nearly 300 overdoses this year alone. The sheriff’s office is now charging fentanyl dealers with first-degree murder.

“I don’t want to call it a crisis, but it is getting close,” Lt. Joe Abollo told CBS12 News reporter Dylan Huberman. “Right now, we’re on an average of one overdose a day here just in Indian River County.”

“The DEA and right now, the Homeland Security Investigations Unit are closely working with us as a task force.”

The St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office told CBS12 News they made 64 fentanyl-related arrests so far this year, while they made only 52 in all of last year.

Port St. Lucie police said there were 15 overdose deaths in the city, last year. This year, there are already 15, just from fentanyl.

This week, the office Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody announced just two milligrams can be deadly. In the last few months, law enforcement seized nearly 85 pounds of fentanyl in Florida, enough to kill everyone in 66 of Florida’s 67 counties.

And bright-colored fentanyl resembles candy.

It also pointed to 12,000 fentanyl pills in popular Halloween candy packages seized at Los Angeles International Airport, approximately 15,000 colored-fentanyl pills in Nerds candy boxes and Skittles candy bags, as well as another approximately 15,000 rainbow-colored fentanyl pills in Lego toy boxes—all within the last month.

Her office also noted fentanyl is approximately 100 times more potent than morphine and 50 times more potent than heroin.

Making the problem exponentially worse is how easy it is to get, and who is looking for it.

More than a year ago, the chief executive of the nonprofit Organization for Social Media Safety told the Washington Post about an informal test.

“They were able to connect with drug dealers on multiple social media sites in under three minutes,” Marc Berkman said.

He used demographic information from the software company Sprout Social which said Facebook and Instagram have more than a billion monthly active users, TikTok has a billion, and Snapchat has 319 million.

And they’re mainly used by young people. None of those platforms have a “largest age group” that includes people 35 and older.

Plus, drug users are easily able to order what they need to get their fix. The open secret is using emoji codes. It can be done on any smartphone.

The emoji menu is so powerful, the D.E.A. even came out with a guide “to give parents, caregivers, educators and other influencers a better sense” of what’s happening around them.

“Just one pill laced with fentanyl can kill, so parents please talk to your children about the dangers posed by this extremely lethal drug,” Moody said.

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