Blue pills intended to look like oxycodone, which were actually a mix of drugs including fentanyl, were being sold on the streets in Erie and Chautauqua counties.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman says the pills were potentially so deadly his office warned people of the risks months ago. At a news conference Wednesday, he announced that under a 59-count indictment, nine local residents and a Californian have been arrested and charged with drug trafficking between California and Buffalo.
The investigation, named Operation Blue Death, involved a mix of local, state and federal agencies. Blue is the standard color for oxycodone pills. Along with the pills, the individuals are accused of trafficking heroin, cocaine and marijuana.
Authorities seized 502 fentanyl-laced pills, more than 100 grams of black tar heroin, more than 130 grams of cocaine, 15 pounds of marijuana, and a 9mm pistol with 27 rounds of ammunition.
Schneiderman says the pills' appearance disguised its dangers.
"These pills were a toxic mix of acetaminophen and fentanyl, one of the most deadly drugs in the world. Fentanyl is 50 times stronger than heroin. A dose just the size of a few grains of sand can be lethal," Schneiderman said.
Schneiderman said the operation was part of his SURGE initiative to root out violent gangs and drug dealers with the help of local law enforcement. He added this kind of investigation has to be combined with drug treatment and blasted federal budget plans which call for cutting programs like Medicaid, which provide drug treatment.
"The opioid crisis continues to hit these counties with a devastating effect. The rate of drug-related deaths is rising across New York, about twice as fast in smaller cities and suburbs as compared to New York City," Schneiderman added.