A "massive" quantity of fentanyl — more than 30 pounds of one of the world's deadliest opioids — was seized Thursday in raids by law enforcement agencies at several sites in South Jersey, authorities said Friday.
Yahmire Boardley (pictured above), 22, of Camden, was charged on multiple drug trafficking counts following an investigation by New Jersey State Police and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. No other arrests were announced.
"Given the tragic levels of deaths that have already been attributed to fentanyl or fentanyl-laced heroin, an arrest and seizure of this size is very significant," said Jeremiah A. Daley, executive director of the Philadelphia-Camden High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, which participated in the raids.
Pharmaceutical forms of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is up to 50 times stronger than heroin, are routinely used in hospitals to treat acute pain following surgery. The death of the musician Prince last year was attributed to the drug, although fatal overdoses from legally prescribed fentanyl are not common.
On the street, illicit fentanyl — typically produced by drug cartels outside the country — is often added to heroin to boost the drug's potency.
The "huge bust," said New Jersey Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino, stopped many thousands of doses of the lethal opiate from reaching the street "and undoubtedly saved many lives."
About 910 people died from drug overdoses last year in Philadelphia, more than triple the city's homicide rate. More than 3,500 Pennsylvanians died from overdoses in 2015.
In New Jersey, there were nearly 1,600 overdose deaths, including about 420 attributed to fentanyl. Final 2016 estimates of drug-related deaths have not been released by either state.
"The importance and magnitude of this narcotics operation cannot be overstated," said Scott Thomson, chief of the Camden County Police Department, which was involved in this week's raids.
"The heroin epidemic, of which fentanyl plays a role, is killing people at an alarming rate throughout our region, and we will remain vigilant against anyone seeking to distribute this toxin. Furthermore," Thomson said, the seizures "were another example of all levels of law enforcement working together to get a deadly poison off the streets of Camden and other surrounding communities."