From left, suspects Lincoln Payano Del Orbe, Christina Mota Soto and Wilbert Taveras Payano.
Montco DA's office
A Montco lab tech shows how much fentanyl is required to equal the potency of heroin.
Montco DA's office
They say that just two to three milligram of fentanyl can kill.
So when drug and law enforcement agents in Montgomery County stumbled upon a kilogram of fentanyl allegedly trafficked to the area from New York City, they were literally sitting atop a pile of poison that could potentially kill half a million people.
“This seizure has without a doubt saved many lives,” Montgomery County DA Kevin Steele said Tuesday, after announcing the seizure of the kilo and related arrests of three alleged drug traffickers. “This one kilo contained anywhere between 333,000 and 500,000 fatal doses.”
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Lincoln Payano Del Orbe, 25, Christina Mota Soto, 29, both of Philadelphia, and Wilbert Taveras Payano, 33, of the Bronx, New York City, were arrested and are charged with possession with intent to deliver for allegedly knowingly selling fentanyl – unlike many dealers caught selling fentanyl-laced heroin, who typically deny knowing they were selling the drug.
In Montgomery County alone, 249 overdoses were reported in 2016, with 108 of those deaths involving fentanyl. Pure fentanyl is some 40 to 50 times stronger than heroin. So far in 2017, the number of overdoses in Montco are continuing at the same rate, but the portion attributed to fentanyl is growing, and is now involved in more than 50 percent of the deaths, Steele said.
“Fentanyl is being sold wittingly, as in this case, and unwittingly, and it is the most frequent mechanism of death we are facing,” he said.
Overdose numbers are steadily ticking up nationwide. There were an estimated 52,404 overdoses in the U.S. in 2015. In Philly, there were more than 900 overdoses in Philly in 2016 – almost three times the number of homicides that year.
On July 11, a confidential informant allegedly purchased 15 grams of what was supposed to be heroin from defendant Soto for $1,000 as a “sample,” according to law enforcement. Instead, the informant received pure fentanyl, with no heroin present, police say. Soto texted the informant that the sample was “synthetic” and needed to be mixed with other drugs to lessen its strength, according to investigators.
Agents then staged a $64,000 purchase of one kilo in the parking lot of a Home Depot at the Cheltenham Shopping Mall on July 24, after which Soto was arrested. Del Orbe was arrested Aug. 21, and Payano was taken into custody Sept. 20 in the Bronx.