Authorities have begun cracking down on carfentanil, a powerful synthetic opioid that masquerades as heroin, is best known for its use as an elephant tranquilizer and is now believed to have killed scores of South Florida addicts.
Miami-Dade police narcotics detectives and FBI agents on Friday raided the home of a West Perrine man they say sold tiny packets of the potent drug to an undercover detective.
The drug is so deadly — the U.S. government estimates that it can be up to 5,000 times stronger than heroin — that the FBI’s Technical Hazards Response Unit donned special suits to search the suspected drug dealer’s South Miami-Dade home on Friday.
Many users, however, have injected, ingested or snorted the drug with no such protection.
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Carfentanil has been preliminarily detected in the bodies of at least 107 people who died of suspected overdoses this year, according to newly released data by the Miami-Dade Medical Examiner’s Office.
Carfentanil has become the latest synthetic opioid to ravage North American cities, killing hundreds in cities in the U.S. and in Vancouver, Canada.
Investigators believe carfentanil originates in Chinese labs that sell synthetic drugs to U.S. buyers through the internet, using the mail to deliver packages. The new style of drug trade was chronicled last year in the Miami Herald’s Pipeline China series.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration issued a public warning against the drug in September. “Carfentanil is surfacing in more and more communities,” DEA Acting Administrator Chuck Rosenberg said in the advisory at the time. “We see it on the streets, often disguised as heroin. It is crazy dangerous.”
Across South Florida, opioids — heroin, fentanyl and its synthetic cousins — have been increasingly detected in the bodies of hundreds of overdose victims in the past two years. Many users believe they are taking heroin, and don’t realize dealers have laced it with fentanyl, carfentanil or other cheaply made synthetics.
Law enforcement has made curbing the drugs a priority. Miami-Dade police’s crime lab in 2016 has detected carfentanil in 53 drug seizures, all but 19 in mixtures with other drugs.
Last month, the Broward Medical Examiner’s office reported that lab testing “strongly suggests” that 53 recent deaths there have been caused by carfentanil. “Ingesting just a few granules of carfentanil the size of table salt can kill you,” the office said in a press released. “It is by far the most deadly of the opiates readily available to those who use street drugs.”
The number is nearly double in Miami-Dade, which has yet to officially rule on the causes of deaths in the carfentanil cases because of ongoing toxicology testing. Cartfentanil cases did not begin showing up in Miami-Dade until around July.
At least one overdose victim is believed to have bought drugs from Omega Demetrius Dupont, 45, the West Perrine man arrested Friday.
According to an arrest warrant, Dupont first sold an undercover detective $40 worth of drugs — wrapped in tiny tinfoil packets — in the parking lot of an Exxon station at 11190 SW 176th St. Four more buys were done over the following weeks.
In at least two cases, the drugs wound up testing positive not for heroin but for carfentanil, according to an arrest warrant by Miami-Dade Detective Kristina Lageyre.
On Friday, detectives conducted one last undercover buy at the same gas station. Dupont was arrested inside his black Cadillac, a marijuana joint in his mouth. A Miami-Dade police lieutenant found a tiny packet of foil with the suspected drug hidden inside Dupont’s sock.
“Just that right there will kill you,” the lieutenant said.
Moments later, heavily armed FBI agents streamed down Southwest 171st Street, just past 104th Avenue, to a lime green house where Dupont was believed to be selling to users he knew from the neighborhood. Yelling “FBI! Open the door!” agents set off flash-bang grenades, causing a stray dog to sprint away in terror.
The home was secured. Agents specializing in hazardous materials, some of them flown in from Washington, D.C, soon began detailing the scene, clad in white hazmat suits with pink masks.
Dupont, a felon who has served two stints in prison for robberies, was cuffed and booked on several drug charges. His is one of only a handful of arrests in recent months involving people suspected of dealing carfentanil on the streets.