In June, New Jersey police seized a quantity of drugs so large that they likely saved hundreds, if not thousands of lives in doing so. Fentanyl, the synthetic opioid used in making heroin and other street drugs, can kill an individual with only two or three milligrams.
The drug bust, which easily surpassed the previous record in the state, recovered 100 pounds of the dangerous drug, which would have been enough lethal doses to kill 118 million people, or the entirety of New Jersey and New York City’s populations combined.
While it is a horrifying detail on its own, the men responsible for the transport side of the drug trafficking received extremely light sentences, which were decided on Friday. The court ruled that less than decade-long sentences were appropriate considering the tragedy which could have occurred from the massive amount of drugs hitting the streets.
Jesus Carrillo-Pineda from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Daniel Vasquez from Somerton, Arizona were caught with a majority of the shipment in their possession in North Bergen, New Jersey on June 28. Police reportedly witnessed the men transfer 40 kilograms of fentanyl from a trailer to a Mercedes Benz in a business parking lot.
The investigating officers found the massive amount of drugs, along with “$1,050 in cash and a small quantity of heroin in the car,” which was tied to Carillo-Pineda.
Vasquez was operating the tractor-trailer when police arrived. Another suspect, Jesus Yanez-Martinez accompanied him, however, he was cleared of all charges on January 24, the first the ridiculously lenient sentences.
The following day, in Willingboro, Omar Zeus Rodriguez was discovered with five kilograms of fentanyl, 40 kilograms of heroin, “and a smaller quantity of methamphetamine,” while loading the drugs from his home to a getaway vehicle. Authorities approached Rodriguez, who fled; police have yet to locate him.
Rodriguez was connected to Carillo-Pineda and Vasquez, totaling 45 kilograms of fentanyl, nearing 100 pounds. It was not revealed where the drugs originated or where the men were headed.
Fentanyl is 50 times stronger than heroin, and that amount, law enforcement determined, could have yielded 118 million doses of the drug. Considering the devastating amount of narcotics confiscated, the three men received sentences inappropriate for their actions.
On December 18, Carrillo-Pineda and Vasquez pled guilty in front of Superior Court Judge Nesle A. Rodriguez in Hudson County.
However, on January 26, Carrillo-Pineda received ten years in prison for the fentanyl and heroin, and Vasquez was awarded only six years in prison for his involvement with the fentanyl. Rodriguez remains a fugitive and has yet to receive sentencing.
It is unclear why the criminals involved in this drug seizure received such light sentences. It does not serve justice to the communities of New Jersey that are still suffering from the opioid epidemic, particularly fentanyl.
Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice reported that in 2015, “only about two percent of the heroin tested by the State Police” contained fentanyl. At the end of 2017, that figure had reached almost 33%.
The frightening side of fentanyl besides its highly addictive nature is that an incredibly small amount can kill even the heaviest drug user. It is being added not only to heroin to increase yields, but also counterfeit prescription pills.
Unfortunately, this is typically done by a drug dealer or otherwise non-pharmaceutical person who generally cares more about the profits than the number of people who could be harmed.
This is also clear in the fatalities that occurred in New Jersey alone. In 2015, 417 people died from fentanyl overdose; in 2016, “over 800 deaths” occurred.
While in office, former Governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie was actively working alongside President Trump to fight the opioid epidemic in America, seeing the devastation in his home state.
He expressed deep concern for the drug crisis, saying “We are the most medicated country in the world, and it’s unnecessary.”
New Jersey police prevented countless deaths from preventing the drugs from hitting the streets, however, is it concerning that drug cartels had such an astronomical amount of the drug.
Prior to the incident, the largest fentanyl seizure in New Jersey was 14 kilograms in March, which is still concerning, especially illustrating the problem’s recent need for more vigilant law enforcement tactics.
Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal reported that the state of New Jersey will continue to fight the drug epidemic by strictly enforcing the law against drug dealers, over-prescribing doctors, and “drug manufacturers who promote addiction.” The state will also continue to “support drug treatment programs” and providing life-saving Narcan to overdosed users.
Colonel Patrick Callahan of the New Jersey State Police added that the drug bust was so large that it undoubtedly spared multiple first-time users from beginning a horrifying journey into the opioid devastation. There are unfortunately many addicts still suffering in New Jersey and in the United States, however, every seizure that prevents a new one is, can be considered a success.