ATLANTA — Atlanta's Drug Enforcement Administration Division said Atlanta has become a prominent hub for drug trafficking operations on the East coast.
DEA Special Agent Chuvalo Truesdell said he's seen the drug trade in Atlanta develop and grow over the last 30 years due to its strategic location.
"Atlanta is a big city, has a lot things going on, movements and transportations, so the transportation infrastructure is extremely important," Truesdell said. "But most importantly -- location, Atlanta is equal distance between the U.S.-Mexico border, it's about 1,100 miles so it sits in between there and also the Eastern Seaboard, where a lot of drug customers are doing this."
Truesdell said drug traffickers have adapted in Atlanta and have the ability, as he coins "to hide in plain sight."
"They're assimilated, their foot soldiers, and pretty much entrusted them to do their business so now they're here pretty much solidly now," he said.
Truesdell said drug traffickers have branched out and are now selling different types of altered drugs.
"They're what we call poly-drug traffickers, they not only deal in fentanyl, which is a synthetic opioid, they deal in marijuana, they deal in all of the illicit drugs that you could possibly imagine, cocaine," he said.
Truesdell said fentanyl, in particular, has proven to be deadly on Atlanta's streets and there has been a recent spike in fentanyl related overdoses. He recounted the story of a drug trafficker who decided to self-indulge but did not know the cocaine was laced with fentanyl and he died.
According to Georgia's Department of Public Health, opioid-involved overdose deaths have been rapidly increasing in the state since 2010. State data also shows illicit opioids such as heroin and fentanyl have also been increasing in opioid-involved overdose deaths since 2013.
The DEA of Atlanta said a quarter of the city's counterfeit pills that have been analyzed have a lethal dose of fentanyl.
What is fentanyl?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pharmaceutical fentanyl is a synthetic opioid, approved for treating severe pain. The CDC said it is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. Truesdell said fentanyl is altered and pressed to make the drug more powerful.
Truesdell also said another type of fentanyl, called Carfentanyl, is often used to tranquilize large mammals like rhinos and elephants, is also being distributed around Atlanta. He estimated it is 10,000 times more powerful than morphine and 100 times more powerful than fentanyl.
Where does it come from?
Atlanta's DEA said fentanyl derives from the opioid family, which uses raw ingredients that come from parts of Mexico and China. Due to Atlanta's proximity to the U.S.-Mexico border and the Eastern Seaboard, drugs then get transported via trucks and commercial vehicles to the area.
How much is lethal?
According to the DEA of Atlanta, 1 out of 4 counterfeit pills found in Atlanta's drug trade are estimated to have a lethal dose of fentanyl in them. Truesdell said a lethal dose may vary from person to person but estimates 2 milligrams, which is comparable to two pencil ends or a small mosquito.
How do we move forward?
Moving forward, Truesdell said it is increasingly important for people to have healthy conversations and to always educate yourself when it comes to drugs. He said these street drugs are equivalent to a "weapon of mass destruction" and a lot of damage can be caused to families and communities.
“We are really sounding the alarm bell, trying to let people know that first of all it’s a very risky proposition," Truesdell said. "If you don’t get prescribed pills from a trusted medical professional, then it’s certainly a risky proposition."