A 28-year-old man is accused of attempting to smuggle more than 200 fentanyl pills into the United States.
The smuggling attempt was stopped at the Highway 111 immigration checkpoint in Niland, just across from the Salton Sea.
The man arrived to the checkpoint Sunday afternoon in a rental 2021 Chevrolet Silverado. The vehicle was sent to secondary inspection for a more detailed investigation.
A Border Patrol K-9 detection team alerted agents to the vehicle. Agents then inspected the inside of the truck and found a clear plastic bag with blue-colored pills in the glove box.
The man told agents that he had more pills in his boot. The pills tested positive for fentanyl. In total, the man was found in possession of 233 fentanyl pills valued at $5,825.
The man, identified as a 28-year-old U.S. citizen, and the narcotics were turned over to the Imperial County Sheriff's Office.
The vehicle was returned to the rental company.
There were also two other passengers inside the vehicle Both were released.
Fentanyl Deaths on the Rise in Riverside County and Across the State
Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid that is similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse.
Riverside County District Attorney Hestrin told News Channel 3's Madison Weil that fentanyl deaths are up by more than 800% in the last five years in the county.
In 2016, there were two fentanyl-related deaths in the county. This year, they expect to see between 500-600 deaths.
“We’re seeing fentanyl pouring into our region. It’s an incredibly lethal substance,” he said.
Across the state, fentanyl deaths have increased by 1,513%. In 2020, there were 3,857 fentanyl-related deaths in California, according to the Orange County District Attorney's office.
Hestrin attributes the skyrocketing deaths, in part, due to how cheap fentanyl is to produce. He says the DEA estimates that up to 40% of counterfeit pills on the street right now contain a fatal dose.
Fentanyl is being found in all kinds of drugs: from cocaine, methamphetamines, even anti-anxiety or sleeping medications.
Hestrin said cartels now have the ability to create pills that look identical to regulated pills like Percocet or Valium — citing the case of one 21-year-old boy who died after taking Percocet from a friend. Neither of them knew it was laced with fentanyl.
Last week, Riverside County DA Mike Hestrin joined Orange County DA Todd Spitzer in announcing that those who manufacture or sell the fentanyl can be charged with murder if someone dies after ingesting or being exposed to it.
The Riverside County DA's Office is currently prosecuting nine fentanyl-related murder cases.