Enough fentanyl to kill nearly 3 million people was seized in two separate drug busts with connections to North Carolina this past month.
The fentanyl crisis is at an all-time high, with the southern border crisis intensifying since the Biden Administration took office in 2021.
The first and biggest bust occurred on Oct. 12 when Mario Alberto Castro Solache, 29, of Raleigh; Pedro Mondragon, 27, of Lillington; and Ignacio Rodriguez, 28, Bradenton, Florida, were arrested in connection to the largest drug bust in the history of Polk County, Florida.
Florida officials announced the arrests on Oct. 22.
Investigators seized 11 pounds of fentanyl, enough to kill 2.7 million people.
Operation Hot Dirt began in September when detectives were tipped off to drug traffickers’ plans to smuggle fentanyl from Mexico to Bradenton, Florida, and then into Polk County.
Reports say the fentanyl was made in Mexico and sent to the U.S. to be made into synthetic pills for sale on the streets.
The detectives’ first two undercover buys were made with Rodriguez, who was identified as the local dealer. A news release said that one of the buys had two kilos of fentanyl concealed in a Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal box, and the remaining three kilos were concealed in a yellow igloo cooler.
The release continued by saying Rodriguez warned the undercover detectives to be careful or they might overdose. He recommended they wear a mask and gloves and suggested that they drink milk before ingesting the drug to help with feelings of tightness in their chests.
According to reports, Rodriguez told detectives he could also sell them marijuana, meth, and cocaine.
Rodriguez was taken into custody by the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office on a Polk County warrant for trafficking in fentanyl, conspiracy to traffic in fentanyl, possession of a vehicle for drug trafficking, unlawful use of a two-way communication device, and possession of drug paraphernalia.
He was released from the Manatee County Jail on Oct. 15 after posting a $56,500 bond.
According to a news release, Castro Solache and Mondrago went to Polk County on Oct. 11 and met with undercover detectives to talk about a multi-kilogram sale of fentanyl.
Castro Solache told detectives that he and the supplier in Mexico wanted to establish a portion of their drug trafficking organization in Polk County. Both men told detectives that they were being paid to collect money for the fentanyl drug dealer in Mexico.
Detectives learned during the investigation that the Mexican supplier of fentanyl needed the money from the drug sales to pay two different cartels: La Familia Michoacana and the Sinaloa Cartel, according to the news release.
Mondragon and Castro Solache were taken into custody on Oct. 12 and charged with conspiracy to traffic in fentanyl.
Castro Solache is in the country illegally and has a Border Patrol hold in the Polk County Jail. He entered the U.S. sometime after May, according to the news release.
Mondragon was released on bond from jail on Oct. 17.
The second bust occurred in North Carolina on Oct. 15 when two men from Gainesville, Georgia, were arrested after a joint investigation between the Stanly County Sheriff’s Office and Norwood Police.
Luis Angel Ventura Castro, 21, and Omar Garcia Luna, 20, were arrested after authorities found 517 grams of uncut fentanyl inside their vehicle with a street value of $258,000. Officials say it had the potential to kill 250,000 people.
Both Castro and Luna were charged with two counts of Level 3 trafficking opium, possession with intent to manufacture, sell or deliver opium, maintaining a vehicle for a controlled substance, and possession of drug paraphernalia.
They are currently being held in the Stanly County Jail under a $1 million bond and are scheduled to be in court today.
The rising cases of fentanyl deaths have hit close to home to many across the country and North Carolina. On Saturday, Sept. 17, people from around the country gathered in Washington, D.C., to demand action from national leaders on the spike in fentanyl deaths. The event was organized by a group called Lost Voices of Fentanyl, and among those gathered were about 20 members of the Forgotten Victims of North Carolina, a state-based grassroots group of mostly mothers whose children were lost to fentanyl poisoning.
Patricia Drewes, who is part of Lost Voices of Fentanyl and the organizer of Forgotten Victims of North Carolina, told Carolina Journal on Sept. 19 that about 700 marched from the National Mall to the White House. Drewes daughter, Heaven Leigh Nelson, died of fentanyl poisoning in 2019.
The Drug Enforcement Administration has been warning the public in recent months of “rainbow fentanyl.”
The trend appears to be a new method drug cartels use to sell highly addictive and potentially deadly fentanyl made to look like candy to children and young people.
Fentanyl remains the deadliest drug threat facing this country. According to the CDC, 107,622 Americans died of drug overdoses in 2021, with 66% of those deaths related to synthetic opioids like fentanyl. Drug poisonings are the leading killer of Americans between 18 and 45. Fentanyl available in the United States is primarily supplied by two criminal drug networks, the Sinaloa Cartel and the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, according to the DEA.
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said in a press conference on Oct. 22, “If you don’t stop this, you are helping kill a lot of kids and a lot of people in this country that shouldn’t die.”
David Larson contributed to this article.