A federal grand jury in Baltimore has indicted 19 men, ranging in age from 20 to 54, in a conspiracy to sell heroin and fentanyl, the powerful opioid behind the epidemic of overdose deaths in Maryland and throughout the country. Most of the recent opioid overdose deaths in Baltimore involved fentanyl.
“This year, more than twice as many people will die of fentanyl overdoses in Baltimore than of gun violence,” said U.S. Attorney Robert K. Hur. “Drug dealing and gun violence often go hand in hand. We will continue to apply federal resources to prosecute those who use guns to distribute drugs, peddling death and despair in our neighborhoods.”
The indictment alleges that all 19 men were part of an organization that, starting in 2017, operated out of West Baltimore and distributed the illegal drugs. Seven of the defendants were charged with federal gun crimes; six had previous felony convictions and were prohibited from having firearms, according to the indictment.
The FBI’s Baltimore Safe Streets Task Force and Baltimore police conducted the investigation that led to the 19-count indictment. If convicted on the drug conspiracy, all of the defendants face a mandatory minimum of 10 years and up to life in prison, according to prosecutors. Those charged with gun crimes face additional penalties.
According to the Maryland Department of Health, the number of opioid-related overdoses in the state increased 14.8 percent in the first half of the year. Nearly 90 percent of the 1,185 overdose deaths were related to fentanyl, which is often added to heroin to boost its effects without the user knowing. The powerful opioid is 50 times more potent than heroin and a miniscule amount — less than two milligrams — can kill. In Baltimore, from January to June, 442 people died from opioid-related overdoses, a 23 percent increase over the same period last year.