Note: Warning, some of the video in this story is disturbing.
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – There’s a new drug of choice in New Mexico causing problems like the state’s never seen before. So why is Fentanyl so prevalent in New Mexico?
KRQE Investigates highlighted some of the challenges our state is up against, particularly regarding the impacts of Fentanyl. “I would consider it to be poison,” said Albuquerque Police Lieutenant Ryan Nelson.
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“We have ODs constantly,” said Eddy County Sheriff Mark Cage. “This is disgusting, and it should never happen.”
But more often, law enforcement agencies are responding to calls that involve Fentanyl. Police lapel video captured officers in Carlsbad rushing into a backyard last year. “Where’s the kid at?” An officer asked as he ran into a family’s backyard in Carlsbad. “Right here, bro. Right here!” A man shouted back.
The officer found a 12-year-old boy dying in his family’s shed. “CPR started. C’mon buddy, c’mon buddy!” Officers and first responders are captured on video frantically trying to save the boy’s life.
The boy’s mother told police she knew he overdosed. “I could smell that he had been smoking Fentanyl,” Alexis Smith told police. Police say 12-year-old Brent Sullivan died from this Fentanyl overdose.
The officer who tried to save him is in disbelief. “Give me just a minute,” the stunned officer told his supervisor. “He’s just a f***ing kid.”
Investigators find out what happened from the boy’s grandmother. “Ma’am this is all important information,” a detective told Kelli Smith, Sullivan’s grandmother. “Fentanyl. He took Fentanyl,” she said.
Smith held one of her infant grandchildren as she talked to the police. Shock turned to anger as they heard more.
How did a 12-year-old boy overdose on Fentanyl?
“I’m trying to figure out what’s going on,” the detective told Smith. “We have a 12-year-old boy who’s dead.”
“His mom’s addicted to drugs,” said Smith. “He stole some pills from his mom yesterday.” When asked how long the 12-year-old has been using Fentanyl, Smith replied, “He’s OD’d. This is the fourth time he’s OD’d.”
Brent Sullivan’s mom, Alexis Smith, and his grandma Kelli Smith went to jail on charges of child abuse resulting in death for creating that dangerous situation. Both of them are still in custody pending trial.
Brent Sullivan’s story is being shared by law enforcement to warn parents and communities about the dangers of Fentanyl. Investigators say his family knew there was a problem and didn’t seek help until it was too late.
“We’re tired of it. We’re tired of our citizens dying, being killed by this poison. We’re sick of the violent crime that accompanies it. We’ve had enough!” A fired-up Eddy County Sheriff, Mark Cage, vowed earlier this year that law enforcement across the state is taking it up a notch.
During the three-month ‘Operation Blue Crush,’ federal agencies partnered with local departments this year to seize 119 pounds of Fentanyl and made hundreds of arrests.
“We have to do this. We have to get the word out,” Greg Millard said during a June news conference alongside local and federal agencies. Millard is the Special Agent in Charge (SAC) of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s El Paso Division.
Three months after that announcement, the FBI made its largest Fentanyl bust in Bureau history in Albuquerque, recovering more than a million Fentanyl pills. “That’s enough Fentanyl to have killed thousands of people,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said in a video the agency posted on Youtube.
“I’ve spent the majority of my career working in narcotics,” said Lt. Ryan Nelson. Lt. Nelson is part of the Albuquerque Police Department’s narcotics division.
“We have four detectives and one sergeant,” said Nelson. When asked if he believes that’s enough to tackle the problem, Lt. Nelson replied, “No, I don’t think it’s enough.”
His team seizes thousands of pills regularly, he explained. Local cases that have the ability to be federally charged are overwhelming federal caseloads.
Where is Fentanyl coming from?
“They’re stumbling upon this kind of quantity of drugs quite frequently,” explained Nelson. Inside APD’s drug evidence vault, across from shelves of seized marijuana from old cases, are bins full of opioids.
Illicit Fentanyl is made to look like real oxycontin painkillers. But a single two-milligram pill, 100 times more powerful than morphine, highly addictive and cheap, can be lethal.
“You see a big bulk of marijuana, for example, huge a brick of cocaine, of meth or of heroin,” explained Carlos Briano, with the El Paso DEA Division. “But 1000 pills of Fentanyl can fit in the palm of your hand. It’s a much easier thing to smuggle.”
Agents with the DEA and Homeland Security told KRQE News 13 most of it is coming across the border from Mexican drug cartels. “So they’re driving addiction and that turns into profits,” said Briano.
“If it kills 108,000 Americans in the process, it doesn’t matter. That’s just the cost of doing business for the cartels,” Briano added.
Social media also changed the game for drug traffickers. It used to be you had to know someone to buy drugs. Now, online platforms give dealers a level of anonymity, which detectives say is even more dangerous.
“You get both sides coming armed to a deal, and that ends as bad as you’d think,” explained Lt. Nelson. “We get a lot of shootings, a lot of homicides based off of Internet sales.”
APD now has detectives using social media in undercover buys. And platforms like Snapchat have disabled accounts that market images of the blue pills.
But for every big bust, there are countless deals going undetected. And Lt. Nelson worries young people may find taking pills or smoking Fentanyl less risky than experimenting with other drugs.
“Kid was 12 years old, Jim,” the first officer first on the scene told a detective. “Yeah, I know. Fentanyl,” the detective sighed.
“One experimentation could be game over,” said Briano. “Don’t tire of having these conversations with your loved ones.”
Kelli Smith, Sullivan’s grandmother, has been in trouble before, being arrested for trafficking heroin. She and her daughter Alexis are set to go to trial on child abuse charges next year.