San Diego

Traffickers Use Dark Web to Smuggle Extremely Lethal Chemicals into San Diego

Some of the chemicals are strong enough to kill someone with a single flake smaller than a grain of salt

Traffickers are using the dark web to smuggle lethal chemicals into Mexico via San Diego from China through online orders, confirmed the U.S. Attorney's office.

They are prosecuting their first local case involving 4ANPP, the primary chemical ingredient used to manufacture the deadly drug fentanyl. Traffickers are smuggling the drug from San Diego into Mexico where it is mixed as fentanyl and then either trafficked back across the border to make illegal pills or packaged and sold as heroin. 

In one case, a former U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer went to a box office in San Ysidro to pick up 4ANPP, a chemical component of the fatal drug, and was arrested soon after, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

4ANPP is the primary ingredient for fentanyl. It is being transported into Mexico, in order to make the extremely potent opiate that can kill someone with a single flake smaller than a grain of salt, the U.S. Attorney’s office said.

Cartels are mixing fentanyl, which is more profitable than heroin, with illegal street pills, or they’re trying to pass it off as heroin, which is more expensive to harvest.

An escalating number of deaths is prompting federal and local law enforcement agencies to issue urgent warnings about the substances.

Deaths have nearly doubled from last year in San Diego because of fentanyl overdoses in what authorities are calling an alarming epidemic.

The message they have for the public is if you are buying illegal pills on the street or on the web: Beware.

“You are gambling with your life,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Alana W. Robinson. “With every pill, you are making a life changing decision because if you end up with a tainted dose, you’re done.”

In documents released to the public and NBC 7 for the first time Friday, the U.S. Attorney’s office details how the former CBP officer received 4ANPP, the manufacturing chemical for fentanyl, in the mail at a post office in San Ysidro.

The complaint states the former CBP officer was caught trying to take the illicit substance into Mexico. That’s where cartels mix it to make deadly fentanyl that they sell as heroin or fake Oxy pills.

But how are the drugs getting into the country through the U.S. postal system? Since the drugs are extremely potent, very small amounts can be turned into huge profits, mailed in small packages.

A former Homeland Security and counterterrorism agent told NBC 7 there’s a big loophole in the U.S. Postal Service.

It allows smaller packages to come into the U.S. from China and Russia with no pre-screening or database tracking.

“So, the market finds the loopholes,” said Juliette Kayyem, a national security expert. “And given the size of the market and the demand, the supply is finding those loopholes.”

The gap in security alarms authorities not just because of the opioid crisis, but also for our national security.

“People like me, who are very focused on America’s vulnerabilities are very concerned about this persistent loophole,” said Kayyem. “There’s nothing in place that would be able to determine what is coming into the country from China and Russia in small packages.”

A U.S. Postal Service Assistant Inspector said her office is seizing more and more of the drug.

“In our efforts to remove those parcels from the mail stream, just in FY2016 alone, our percentage number of seizures is up 360 percent (from last year) with us removing those toxic parcels from our mail stream,” said Tosha Dennis.

Acting U.S. Attorney Robinson made an urgent and intense warning about fentanyl.

She said the potency of the chemical is strong enough to kill someone with a minuscule fragment. Sometimes, the drugs are mailed directly to customers via the dark web from China.

The DEA is also warning parents about a deadly form of the drug that comes as nasal spray and is marketed to children.

“Users can get into their computer and much like shopping on Amazon, order these drugs from China and they’re delivered directly to their mail from the U.S. mail or other delivery services," the acting U.S. Attorney explained.

Officials also annnounced Friday concern about a new killer: carfentanyl.

It’s a new synthetic opioid 10,000 times more potent than morphine.

“It’s usually used as a powerful sedative for massive animals like elephants,” Robinson said.

Robinson was joined Friday by many federal and local law enforcement agencies, including the DEA, SDPD and the DA’s office.

District Attorney Summer Stephan talked about the situation in the Coroner’s office.

“There is literally body after body,” Stephan said. “The highest number of bodies are in opiate overdoses from pain killers and from heroin and now, even more alarming in the synthetic form of heroin in the form of fentanyl and carfentanyl.”

The biggest concerns to the public right now are the counterfeit pills sold on the street being sold as Xanax or Oxy, but laced with these other substances, authorities said.

Robinson recounted a story of a local man found dead with what looked like an Oxy pill, but really had 20 different chemicals in it, including a lethal dose of fentanyl.

Federal agents have seized over 20,000 fake oxycodone pills this year in San Diego and Imperial counties. Those pills were also laced with lethal doses of fentanyl, Robinson said.

Stephan said her office is going to start charging overdoses as homicides.

“We don’t want anyone out there to claim ignorance because they don’t undersand,” Stephan said. “Because we’re telling you right here and right now.”

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