A young Tijuana man was arraigned in federal court in San Diego Thursday on a charge of attempting to smuggle hundreds of tablets of the extremely powerful — and often deadly — painkiller fentanyl into the United States.
Sergio Linyuntang Mendoza Bohon, 19, faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted, prosecutors said. His next court appearance in the case is scheduled for May 2.
On Feb. 10, Bohon allegedly walked into Otay Mesa Port of Entry with 1,183 tablets of fentanyl hidden in his underwear. The defendant told federal investigators he believed the pills were oxycodone, and they were labeled as such, court documents state.
It was believed to be the first time that federal officials along the California-Mexico border intercepted counterfeit oxycodone tablets containing fentanyl, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Diego.
Last year, the Drug Enforcement Administration released a nationwide public health alert on fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is anywhere from 25 to 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine.
In some parts of the country, heroin is being spiked with fentanyl or being replaced by it, mostly because doing so increases drug dealers’ profits.
“Unsuspecting individuals who illegally purchase oxycodone could potentially die from the ingestion of what turns out to be fentanyl tablets,” U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy said. “We are very concerned that these counterfeit pills could cause serious harm to users. Even miniscule amounts of fentanyl can have devastating consequences for those who abuse it or, literally, even touch it.”
In Sacramento, there have been dozens of overdoses and at least 11 deaths stemming from incidents in which people believed they were taking the prescription painkiller Norco, which contains hydrocodone and acetaminophen, but instead were ingesting fentanyl, according to law enforcement officials.
Fentanyl and its analogues are being produced to a large extent in China, authorities have determined. Mexican drug cartels are buying it directly from the Asian country and also producing it themselves from precursor chemicals obtained there.
–City News Service
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