A kilogram of fentanyl seized by law enforcement agencies at a non-descript shopping center in Cheltenham Township this summer was enough of the deadly synthetic opioid to "kill half the population of Montgomery County."
More than 800,000 people live in Philadelphia's most populous suburban county.
"We're the third-largest county in the state and this amount of fentanyl is that deadly," county District Attorney Kevin Steele said of the July purchase announced Tuesday.
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After undercover detectives made the $64,000 buy July 24, they were able to follow the purchase back to a dealer in Bronx. Three suspects, including a man and woman from Philadelphia, have been arrested for the illegal fentanyl.
"Given that 2 to 3 milligrams — five or six grains of fentanyl — can be fatal, this one kilo contained anywhere between 333,000 and 500,000 fatal doses," Steele said. "This seizure without a doubt saved many lives."
The potent pain killer, which in recent years has become a leading killer of heroin users and others illegally using prescription pills, has become a target of law enforcement battling the ongoing opioid epidemic.
Fentanyl has been described as 100 times stronger than heroin. The synthetic drug also has raised concerns among first responders, like police, firefighters and medical personnel, because exposure can prove fatal.
Some recent incidents in the Philadelphia region have highlighted the concern around fentanyl exposure.
The two city residents arrested are Lincoln Payano Del Orbe Jr., 25, and Christina Mota Soto, 29. A Bronx, New York, man arrested is Wilbert Taveras Payano, 33.
Undercover detectives began July 11 by simply purchasing a 14.8-gram "sample" of what they believed to be heroin, with the intention of eventually buying a kilogram (1,000 grams), authorities allege.
That initial purchase was $1,000, and authorities realized after testing the sample that it was fentanyl, not heroin, according to authorities.
On July 24, the undercover detectives allegedly bought a kilo of fentanyl for $64,000 in the unnamed Cheltenham shopping center. At that time, Mota Soto was arrested.
Eventually, Payano Del Orbe and Taveras Payano were allegedly linked to the fentanyl.
All three are being held in Montgomery County Correctional Center on $1 million each. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Oct. 10 on charges of possesion with intent to deliver and dealing in the proceeds of unlawful activities.