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Derby police officers seize 55 pounds of fentanyl, worth $1.5M

This story originally appeared in the New Haven Register

DERBY >> A motor vehicle stop on Route 34 West Wednesday led police to the discovery of about 55 pounds of fentanyl in a tractor-trailer, according to a press release from police spokesman Lt. Justin J. Stanko.

Police stopped the truck at 10:52 a.m., Stanko said. An investigation revealed more than two dozen large packages of fentanyl in the cab. That amount has an estimated street value of $1.5 million, according to police.

Because of the size of the drug seizure, police turned the truck’s operator and the investigation over to the Drug Enforcement Administration’s New Haven office for federal prosecution

The truck’s operator was identified as Erick Escalante, 47, of Arizona, the release said. He was held without bail after a federal court appearance on charges of possession, intent to distribute and conspiracy to possess and sell fentanyl, according to the Associated Press. It’s unclear whether he has a lawyer. His next court appearance is scheduled for Jan. 4, the AP said.

House Republican Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, in a release, praised Derby police and federal authorities “for making the huge deadly fentanyl bust that may rank as one of the largest hauls of the synthetic heroin in the country.”

In the release, Klarides said Derby Police Chief Gerald Narowski, who was at a Derby holiday event with her Thursday, said after the fentanyl is cut repeatedly with heroin it could produce massive amounts of potentially lethal doses, according to the release.

Klarides last year “introduced legislation that would have made the penalties for possessing or selling fentanyl comparable to that of regular heroin. Currently, the penalties are less severe, something she said must be addressed.”

“The Derby police and Chief Narowski worked extremely hard and effectively with the Federal Drug Enforcement Agency to disrupt the flow of this incredibly potent and dangerous drug. The smallest city in the state is the backdrop for one of the largest fentanyl busts that we know of,’’ Klarides said in the release, also noting that Narowski said authorities are researching where the incident ranks with other large fentanyl busts.

“The 55 pounds of the synthetic heroin that were seized is estimated to have a street value of $1.5. But repeated cutting of the material could increase its overall value to upwards of $50 million,” the release said. Klarides also noted that fentanyl is 50 times stronger than regular heroin and has been the cause of the massive rise in fatal overdoses in Connecticut and throughout the country.

“It truly is an epidemic that has affected so many families in every community, large or small,’’ Klarides said.

Connecticut Chief Medical Examiner Dr. James Gill has projected nearly 900 people will die of accidental drug overdoses this year, continuing the annual increase of deaths attributed to drug use in the state since 2012. Gill also has projected 528 of the expected drug intoxications will involve opioids, which includes heroin, morphine, codeine and fentanyl. Gill said 223 overdoses involving fentanyl had been identified during the first half of 2016.

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