The Department of Justice seized an estimated 10 million fentanyl-laced pills, the attorney general and DEA administrator announced on Tuesday at DEA headquarters.
"Of this year, DEA agents conducted 389 investigations, including 35 cartel linked investigations in 201 cities," Attorney General Merrick Garland told reporters. "Over the course of these investigations, we seized over 10 million fake pills and 82 pounds of fentanyl powder motor crews across all 50 states. That is enough to kill 36 million Americans. In addition agencies 338 weapons during this operation, including shotguns pistols, and hand grenades."
Senior DOJ officials pointed the finger squarely at the Mexican drug cartels for trafficking in the pills.
"These cartels are responsible for virtually all of the fentanyl and they currently dominate the worldwide fentanyl distribution and supply chain," DEA Administrator Anne Milgram said.
Milgram said they are primarily seeing fentanyl laced pills disguised as regular drugs like OxyContin and Percocet.
One other issue they are particularly concerned about is rainbow fentanyl in particular it is "largely driven by marketing."
"The cartels are marketing rainbow colored pills. That are designed to look like candy or prescription drugs. They can come in either a tablet form, or in a block that looks like sidewalk chalk," the attorney general said. "These pills to contain fentanyl. We know from lamp testing that these rainbow fentanyl is just as dangerous and just as deadly as other forms of fentanyl."
Milgram said the cartels don't care who dies. All they care about is making money, she said.
"You know, when we talk about their treachery, what they want to do is sell more fentanyl. Fentanyl is highly addictive. And if someone takes it and they potentially can become addicted, the cartels will make more money. And if they die for the cartels, that's the cost of doing business. There are 100 million other people on Snapchat 150 million more Americans on Instagram 180 million more on Facebook. So they believe that there will always be someone else that they can sell to."
There have been a series of high-profile and major drug busts during the period from May to September of this year.
In one such example this July, the DEA seized approximately one million pills laced with fentanyl allegedly linked to the Sinaloa Cartel in what authorities say was the biggest bust for the drug in California history.
"This massive seizure disrupted the flow of dangerous amounts of fentanyl into our streets and probably saved many lives," said DEA Special Agent in Charge Bill Bodner at the time of the seizure. "The deceptive marketing coupled with the ease of accessibility makes these small and seemingly innocuous pills a significant threat to the health and safety of all our communities. A staggering number of teens and young adults are unaware that they are ingesting fentanyl in these fake pills and are being poisoned."
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine and is a synthetic opioid that is approved for treating severe pain but can often be diverted for abuse and misuse.