In a record-breaking drug bust in Nebraska, state troopers have seized 118 pounds of fentanyl - containing enough lethal doses to kill tens of millions of people.
Nebraska State Patrol Col. John Bolduc announced Thursday that opioids seized last month have tested positive for fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"I'm especially proud of our troopers and our staff because these drugs, as we know, are contributing to the opioid crisis in our country, which is killing Americans every single day," Bolduc said Thursday at a news conference. "This work is saving lives. We can't even extrapolate out the number of lives that this particular bust has impacted."
But as the Kansas City Star reported, that amount of fentanyl would contain enough lethal doses to potentially kill more than 26 million people, given that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration states that as little as 2 milligrams can be fatal.
Fentanyl, which is approved by the Food and Drug Administration for limited use for medical purposes, can be prescribed as a legal painkiller and used as an anesthetic, but it's the illicit use that has experts particularly concerned amid a raging and relentless nationwide drug crisis. Those who have been exposed to it may experience drowsiness, nausea, confusion and sedation, according to the DEA. But, according to the agency, "with repeated exposure comes tolerance, addiction, respiratory depression and arrest, unconsciousness, coma and death."
Opioids, including fentanyl and heroin as well as other painkillers, are the main drivers of overdose deaths across the United States, according to the CDC. Opioid deaths have continued to spike, with more than 42,000 fatalities across the country in 2016, according to the most recent data released by the CDC.
The Nebraska State Patrol said on Facebook that the recent bust was the "largest fentanyl seizure in Nebraska history (by far) and one of the largest ever in the United States."
State troopers discovered the substance last month when conducting a routine traffic stop along Interstate 80 near Kearney, about 130 miles west of Lincoln.
A trooper stopped a Freightliner truck-tractor and semitrailer that was driving on the shoulder along the interstate and, during the stop, "became suspicious of criminal activity," Nebraska State Patrol said in a statement. When troopers searched the vehicle, the statement said, they discovered dozens of foil-wrapped packages hidden in a concealed compartment inside the trailer.
The substance initially tested positive for cocaine and an unknown powder believed to be fentanyl, the troopers said.
"Because of the dangerous nature of the substance, troopers do not perform field testing on suspected fentanyl," according to the statement, so the powder was sent to the Nebraska State Patrol Crime Lab for confirmation.
Bolduc, with the Nebraska State Patrol, told reporters Thursday that the initial test showed a false positive for cocaine.
In fact, he said, lab testing confirmed the substance - all 118 pounds of it - was fentanyl, which he said would be worth more than $20 million on the street.
The truck driver, 46-year-old Felipe Genao-Minaya, and his passenger, 52-year-old Nelson Nunez, both from New Jersey, were arrested for possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver. Both men have since been charged in connection to the crime, according the Buffalo County Attorney's office.
Author information: Lindsey Bever is a general assignment reporter for The Washington Post, covering national news with an emphasis on health.