Federal, state and local law enforcement officials said Tuesday that they have disrupted and dismantled one of the biggest fentanyl distribution rings ever seen in Massachusetts.
An early morning sweep of Lawrence by 200 police officers and federal agents took aim at what's being called a "pipeline of poison."
Police intercepts of phone calls among the 30 or so people charged in the federal indictment show they knew just how potent their product was.
Fentanyl is 50 times more deadly than heroin. In the phone calls, defendants identify their narcotic, called "blue fentanyl," as "the one that's killing people."
Acting Massachusetts U.S. Attorney William Weinreb said the strain was so potent that the defendants took action to lessen its effects.
"The calls in question were the leaders of the organization discussing by what percentage they needed to dilute it — over 90 percent — in order to prevent it from causing overdose deaths," Weinreb said.
On a tape-recorded call, one of the alleged drug suppliers chuckles that "the blue one is good, but it kills a lot of people."
Three organizations were running the product by car and foot, across into New Hampshire and through the Merrimack Valley, the indictment said. According to Homeland Security investigations, 16 of the 30 who are charged are in the country illegally, and five of them are back in the country after being previously deported.
Michael Ferguson of the Drug Enforcement Administration said the focus is on the crime of deadly drug trafficking.
"If anything can be likened to a weapon of mass destruction and what it does to a community," Ferguson said, "it's fentanyl."
Part of the early morning take was two kilos of fentanyl, officials said -- enough doses to put 8,000 addicts somewhere between a near-death drug high and death itself.
This segment aired on May 30, 2017.