A New Mexico man, Manuel Nester Vargas, has been arrested for suspicion of illegal distribution and possession of the drug fentanyl in the Cortez area, according to the Cortez Police Department.
Vargas, 24, was arrested by officers on Dec. 2 in Montezuma County after a yearlong undercover investigation by the Cortez-Montezuma Narcotics Investigation Team, said Cortez Police Chief Vern Knuckles.
During the investigation, law enforcement confiscated 83 grams of fentanyl pills, he said, which have a street value of several thousand dollars.
Vargas is being held in the Montezuma County Detention Center on a $100,000 bond. The 22nd Judicial District Attorney is reviewing the case and has scheduled a formal filing of charges hearing for Dec. 17.
“Fentanyl is an especially dangerous opioid because it is so potent and addictive. It can cause deadly overdose,” Knuckles said.
He said the case involved counterfeit “Oxy 30” oxycodone pills allegedly imported into the Cortez area that contain fentanyl instead.
“They were intentionally made to look like an industry produced pharmaceutical oxycodone pill,” according to a Cortez Police Department press release. “These counterfeit pills contained fentanyl, causing them to be potentially lethal if ingested.”
According to the Drug Enforcement Agency, pharmaceutical fentanyl is 80-100 times stronger than morphine. It was developed for pain management of cancer patients.
In 2015, the DEA issued a nationwide alert about the dangers of the drug and warned its illegal use was a threat to public safety.
According to the U.S. Department of Health, in 2017 there were 72,000 drug overdoses resulting in death in the U.S., and 28,500 of the deaths involved fentanyl.
In the last two years, there have been five or six investigations related to illegal distribution and possession of fentanyl pills, according to the Cortez-Montezuma Narcotics Team.
“We want to make sure our community knows how extremely dangerous these pills are,” said Montezuma County sheriff detective Victor Galarza. “They are out there being sold and trafficked. We are seeing an increase in overdoses because of it.”