April 27 (UPI) — Federal authorities charged 10 more people Friday in connection to an international opioid trafficking operation they say killed several people in the United States.
The announcement came two days after the Justice Department announced charges for 45 others stemming from the fentanyl trafficking ring.
Officials said an investigation in Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire resulted in the seizure of 30 kilograms of fentanyl from China, two firearms and more than $500,000 cash.
According to the indictments, the conspirators took large amounts of fentanyl into the United States and Canada over the last five years. Officials said they shipped the drug to 11 states.
“This was an elaborate and sophisticated conspiracy,” U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Friday. “They used the Internet, about 30 different aliases, cryptocurrency, off-shore accounts, encrypted communications, and they allegedly laundered funds internationally through third parties.”
Sessions said the Chinese fentanyl killed people in North Carolina, New Jersey, Oregon and North Dakota.
In 2016, about 64,000 Americans died from drug overdoses — the highest toll and the quickest increase in U.S. history, Sessions said.
Officials say the most deadly opioid is fentanyl, a synthetic narcotic intended to treat severe pain in patients with serious ailments like cancer.
“The vast majority is made in China and then shipped here either through the mail or brought across our porous Southern border,” Sessions said.
Pop superstar Prince died of a fentanyl overdose in 2016, a Minnesota medical examiner ruled.
The Treasury Department has sanctioned the accused leader of the ring, Jian Zhang, and the Chinese bio-tech company that he owns, along with four other Chinese nationals.
“This is the first time that Treasury has designated an alleged fentanyl trafficker for sanctions,” Sessions said.
Saturday, the Drug Enforcement Administration will hold its semiannual National Drug Takeback Day, an event allowing people to dispose of unneeded or unwanted prescription medications.
President Donald Trump has declared opioid addiction in the United States a national health emergency, and called for better access to treatment for addicts.
“We’re calling on all Americans to prevent pill abuse and theft by cleaning their homes of potentially dangerous, expired and unneeded prescription drugs,” Trump said Friday in his weekly address. “Opioid addiction can impact anyone, and everyone knows someone who has been impacted. That’s why we call it the crisis next door.”