By Sasha Gonzales
FORDHAM MANOR—Authorities seized 14,000 highly-potent fentanyl pills from a Bronx cell phone store doubling as a drug stash house earlier this month, potentially saving scores of opioid users from overdosing, officials said.
An anti-drug task force comprised of agents and officers from the DEA’s New York Division, the NYPD, and the New York State Police recovered the pills, which were disguised as oxycodone but actually contained the far more powerful, synthetic opioid fentanyl, a dose of which can be up to 100 times stronger than morphine. A user accustomed to taking oxycodone would not necessarily have the tolerance to be able to ingest fentanyl without suffering an overdose, officials said.
Counterfeit oxycodone pills containing fentanyl are increasingly appearing on the black market in the Bronx and across New York City, according to the DEA, marking the latest local development in an epidemic that’s ravaged parts of the borough.
The Bronx recorded 363 drug overdose deaths—more than any other borough— in 2017, the last year for which complete data is available.
Rates of fatal overdose were also highest among Bronx residents compared with other boroughs. The neighborhood hardest hit has been the South Bronx, where data shows the rate of fatal drug overdoses in 2017 was higher than all but one state: West Virginia. The South Bronx is also the poorest congressional district in the country.
In the recent bust, agents and police officers were conducting surveillance on Aug. 7 when they spotted suspected narcotics trafficker Andres Reyes-Martinez, 44, of the Bronx, entering and exiting a cellphone store at 155-B West Kingsbridge Road, located in a bustling commercial section of Fordham Manor near the Kingsbridge Armory, officials said.
The office of Bridget Brennan, the city’s Special Narcotics Prosecutor, secured a search warrant for the store, and agents and officers entered at approximately 5:50 p.m., officials said.
Reyes-Martinez was inside with the store’s purported owner, Jesus Garcia, 34, also of the Bronx, prosecutors said. Above the first floor retail area, authorities found a second-floor storage area in which the 14,000 small, blue tablets stamped “M30” had been stashed, officials said. Their appearance closely matched the color and markings of prescription oxycodone, officials said.
The pills were split between 14 bags, each holding approximately 1,000 pills, officials said.
Police also recovered two brick-shaped packages wrapped in duct tape, each weighing approximately one kilogram, containing what officials believe to be heroin, officials said.
Reyes-Martinez and Garcia were both charged with multiple counts of drug possession. Efforts to reach both men were unsuccessful.
The fentanyl pills recovered in the cell phone store are believed to have originated in Mexico, officials said.
Black market, 30 milligram oxycodone pills can sell on the street for up to $30 each, according to the DEA. But fentanyl is cheaper to obtain than pharmaceutical-grade opioid prescription pills like oxycodone, and much more deadly.
Traffickers across the city have been using hidden, makeshift laboratories to mass produce pseudo-pharmaceutical pills made of heroin, fentanyl, and other illicit drugs, official said.
“Throughout New York City, we have seen a spate of cases involving tens of thousands of potentially lethal fentanyl pills masquerading as oxycodone,” Brennan said. “Just because black market pills have the same color and design as legitimate pills, it does not mean they are safe. The ingredients and potency are all unknown, and minuscule amounts of fentanyl can cause overdose or death. Consuming a counterfeit pill is akin to playing Russian Roulette.”
Overall, 1,487 unintentional drug overdose deaths were recorded across the city in 2017 compared with 1,425 in 2016, city records show. Nearly six in ten of those deaths involved fentanyl.
African American communities have been hit particularly hard by the opioid epidemic in New York City, data shows. In 2017, Black New Yorkers had a higher rate of overdose death (25.5 per 100,000) compared with White and Latino New Yorkers (24.9 and 23.9 per 100,000, respectively).
Several neighborhoods in the South Bronx had fatal overdose rates more than double the city average: Highbridge-Morrisania (44.0 per 100,000) and Hunts Point-Mott Haven (46.2 per 100,000), according to city data.
Pictured: Fentanyl pills and heroin seized by the DEA in 2018.