Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

Law enforcement agencies wrap up 90-day operation targeting fentanyl

Flanked by local, state and federal law enforcement leaders, New Mexico State Police deputy chief Troy Weisler announces the results of Operation Blue Crush, 90-day operation targeting fentanyl throughout New Mexico. (Elise Kaplan / Albuquerque Journal)

About 20 local, state and federal agencies around New Mexico conducted a 90-day operation targeting “the growing fentanyl threat” and suspects in violent crimes.

Operation Blue Crush, which wrapped up Thursday, netted 310 arrests — 60% of which were related to fentanyl — and the seizure of 100 firearms and 130 kilograms of drugs, authorities announced at a news conference Friday. The operation was led and coordinated by New Mexico’s High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Program. The national initiative was created in the 1980s to reduce drug trafficking and production.

Law enforcement leaders who gathered at Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office headquarters described a spike in fentanyl use and overdoses in the past several years and said the opioid, brought in from Mexico, is being disguised in different pills or laced into other drugs. Last year about 290 Americans died every day from an overdose, and about 66% of those deaths were caused by synthetic opioids such as fentanyl.

Greg Millard, the special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s El Paso division, said to his knowledge no other state has done an operation specifically targeting fentanyl traffickers.

“What is kind of a one of a kind is a statewide operation focused on fentanyl traffickers,” he said. “These aren’t fentanyl users; we were very clear to the enforcement initiatives we’re not going after users. We’re going after the dealers.”

New Mexico State Police Deputy Chief Troy Weisler said of the 130 kilograms of drugs seized during the operation, 54 kilograms were fentanyl.

“(It) would have caused untold numbers of overdoses and deaths in our community had it made it to the street,” Weisler said. “The value of that fentanyl — this is just the fentanyl — $5.4 million.”

Officials could not provide a list of the people who have been charged but said the majority face either drug possession or trafficking charges or charges related to violent crimes. Most will be tried in state court, although some could face federal charges.

Sonya Chavez, the US Marshal for New Mexico, said six of the people who were arrested have not yet been charged, while agents continue to investigate.

The majority of the arrests and seizures were in the larger metropolitan areas like Las Cruces and Albuquerque, as well as southeastern New Mexico cities like Carlsbad.

“Part of the beauty of being able to do something like this is we have a lot of flexibility to go to Lea County and talk to the sheriff or Eddy County … (and ask)’What are your threats?’ ‘What do you need from us?’ Chavez said. “So his situation is very different than Doña Ana County, or San Juan County and very different from Bernalillo County.”

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