Fatal overdoses from prescription opioids in the United States were occurring at a stable rate years ago, but now with the increasing efforts to tighten prescriptions like oxycodone and hydrocodone, the overdose death toll has quickly soared—reaching more than 49,000 in 2017.
The reason for the increase is synthetic opioids, namely fentanyl, flooding the streets.
The drug is cheap to make, readily available and up to 50-100 times more potent than heroin.
The U.S. believes that factory-produced fentanyl is sourced from manufacturers in China, which reportedly fulfill online orders either from darknet sites or directly from clients and drug traffickers.
It then flows down the pipeline, mainly through the mail, to users and dealers like Melissa Scanlan.
The 31-year-old San Diego woman hit the headlines when she was accused and formally charged in the Southern District of Illinois, with the shipment and sale of more than 50,000 fentanyl pills throughout the country, including Illinois.
Allegations Against Dream Market Vendor “The Drug Llama”
The announcement about the indictment was released by U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Illinois Steven Weinhoeft.
The release noted the involvement of several agencies in the investigation, including the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
Under the pseudonym “The Drug Llama,” Scanlan is alleged to have been running her drug business on the darknet market Dream Market since October 2016 to August 2, 2018.
According to investigators, between April and July, undercover Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents from Illinois, as well as St. Louis, Missouri and San Diego, California, were able to purchase a total of nine items from “The Drug Llama” vendor handle on the said darknet market.
The drugs were then shipped to them from an address under the name of Samantha Cooper, which was later linked back to Scanlan.
Many of the drugs sent to the undercover agents, were contained in leather pouches—the same kind of leather pouches sold under her other business, Luxury Carbon Fiber.
The brand, operating online, sells money clips, leather business card holders and laptop cases.
“The Drug Llama” Linked to Death of a Baby Boy and a 41-Year-Old Woman.
In Southern California, investigators are also investigating Scanlan in connection with two separate overdose cases.
In one case, it is alleged that Scanlan sold fentanyl to a father who somewhat left the drugs within reach of his 10-month-old infant.
The baby boy, Leo Holz, was later found unresponsive in bed with his parents.
The report from a toxicology indicates he had lethal amounts of fentanyl in his bloodstream and stomach.
Authorities suspect that the culprit is the father’s fentanyl pills that had apparently been in the bed with the sleeping family that morning.
In the other case, it is alleged that a 41-year-old woman overdosed on fentanyl she bought from Scanlan.
According to Assistant U.S. Attorney Sherri Hobson, Scanlan’s vendor account specialized in fentanyl pills known as “pressed blues,” disguised as oxycodone with the m30 printN, but also claimed to offer temazepam, amphetamine, Percocet, flexeril and morphine.
After a search warrant was executed at her home in San Diego, Scanlan was arrested but later released, admitting to authorities that she gets her drugs from a Mexican cartel.
A PayPal account linked to Scanlan is believed to have processed thousands of drug-related transactions.
She made her first court appearance in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California on September 6, 2018, and she is to remain detained until she is taken to Illinois—as the court argued that she was a flight risk and a danger to the community at her detention hearing.
If convicted of the charges, Scanlan—who is currently about five months pregnant—could face a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in a federal prison.
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