Authorities Seize Enough Synthetic Opiate to Kill 50 Million People in Massive Drug Bust

Two suspects were charged last week after an enormous quantity of the elephant tranquilizer carfentanil was seized by authorities in Riverside County, California.

Carfentanil, a synthetic opiate, is the most potent fentanyl analog found in the U.S. Typically used in a veterinary capacity to anesthetize large animals, the drug is 10,000 times more powerful than morphine and 100 times more powerful than fentanyl.

The news comes as opiate overdoses reach crisis levels around the country, due in large part to the isolating and destabilizing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. ​​According to Shawn Ryan, Chair of Legislative Advocacy for the American Society of Addiction Medicine, opiate overdoses in the U.S. increased by 15 percent in the three to four months leading up to August 2021.

According to a news release from the Riverside County's District Attorney's office, the arrests and arraignments of 30-year-old Andres Jesus Morales and 27-year-old Alyssa Christine Ponce came after an extended investigation by the Riverside Police Department.

In late August, authorities found a whopping 21 kilograms (approximately 46.3 pounds) of carfentanil at a house in the city of Perris, California, located about 70 miles southeast of Los Angeles. Additionally, police were able to seize four kilograms of cocaine and one kilogram of heroin.

They searched the home in relation to a suspected drug trafficking ring in Riverside County.

Carfentanil is highly lethal: according to the Riverside DA's office, a lethal dose of carfentanil for a human would be measured at a minuscule "nanogram level." In contrast, it takes far more fentanyl—about 2 milligrams—to kill a human.

For scale, fentanyl is 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine.

If the 21 kilograms of carfentanil were to be mixed with other drugs, the quantity would have the potential to "kill more than 50 million people," added the DA's office in a statement.

Tablets Laced with Fentanyl
Tablets thought to have been laced with fentanyl at the Drug Enforcement Administration Northeast Regional Laboratory. Carfentanil, another synthetic opiate, is 100 times more potent than fentanyl. DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images

At the time of the police's initial search of the Perris house, neither suspect was home. However, when detectives served a search warrant at another home on September 14, Ponce and Morales were arrested. There, authorities also found another 16 kilograms (35.3 pounds) of cocaine.

Ponce and Morales are believed to be a couple, reported The Press-Enterprise. Both have pleaded not guilty to their felony charges, and they are being held without bail. Their next court date is set for November 9.

Officials believe the carfentanil seizure is the largest quantity of the drug to have ever been confiscated in Riverside.

"It's outrageous that this stuff is out there," explained Riverside Police officer Ryan Railsback to The Press-Enterprise. He added that the drug is "killing people left and right."

Newsweek has reached out to the Riverside Police Department for additional comment.