SEATTLE – Opioid related deaths are on the rise in Western Washington because of super potent forms of pain killers flooding the streets.
You’ve probably heard of fentanyl by now – in some cases the drug can be 50-times stronger than heroin.
In fact, a Seattle man was just sentenced to a dozen years in prison Friday morning for his role in distributing the powerful drug.
Gregory Smith, 34, had already plead guilty to his charges. Investigators say he was caught after one of his customers died from an overdose.
Smith said he too was addicted to opioids. During sentencing Friday morning, Smith said he believed he was helping others who were also dependent.
"The remorse that I have, the regret, I will spend the rest of my life regretting what I’ve done, the impact its had on my family and my community," Smith said in open court.
Prosecutors called Smith one of Capitol Hill’s most prolific drug dealers in 2016 and 2017.
Court documents shared images of plastic bags filled with cash police confiscated from Smith’s Seattle home which he shared with his wife and 6-year-old daughter.
In all, more than $750,000 was seized including weapons and large amounts of fentanyl investigators say Smith imported from China through the U.S Postal Service after buying them with Bitcoin.
“These drugs are coming in a different way and we’ve got someone able to distribute it a different kind of a way,” said U.S. Attorney Annette Hayes. “Parents, families and folks need to understand it’s not always on the street corner. You can get on the internet, you can be doing this in a different way and the risk is as great.”
Federal investigators say Smith was not only a dealer but also supplied other dealers, feeding the opioid epidemic in and around Seattle.
“Fentanyl, 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, often leads to overdose and death. Thanks to the collaboration between HSI, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the Seattle Police Department, FBI and other local law enforcement agencies, American lives have been saved," said Brad Bench, Special Agent in Charge for HSI Seattle, in a press release.
“Taking someone like that out, it sends a really clear message that we can find you and that we’ll hold you to account,” added Hayes.
“We’re in a brave new, bad world of very potent synthetic drugs that are very easy to bring in,” said Caleb Banta-Green. “There’s a large profit to be made so there’s a large incentive to sell those drugs.”
Banta-Green, an affiliate associate professor at the University of Washington’s School of Public Health says the effects of fentanyl can be so strong that overdose reversing drugs sometimes aren’t used fast enough to save lives.
“Very often times not always but very often looks like a legitimate prescription pill,” he said. “Most often these oxy 30 type pills, and what I’ve heard from some chemists, is they look exactly like that, so people can’t tell the difference.”
Deaths related to fentanyl have been rising and are so far peaking in 2018.
According to Public Health Seattle & King County, there is an identifiable increase from early 2016 through the first quarter of this year topping off at 17 overdose deaths.
Banta-Green says the only way to reverse these trends is to battle the address the chemical dependency issue as it is – a medical disorder.
“We’re not going to get ahead of this thing unless we can drive down demand and that means treating addiction really well,” he said.
Medical professionals remind all drug users about the Good Samaritan law which will not prosecute users for drug possession if they have to call 911 during an emergency. It’s an effort to remind people saving lives is the most important goal during a drug overdose.