How this mother’s fatal overdose led to the dismantling of a national fentanyl trafficking ring

It all started with the death of a 20-year-old mother, just a month after her baby’s first birthday. She is one of the 70,000 Americans who have died from the fentanyl crisis in 2021.

Police officers were unable to save Diamond Lynch, who he overdosed in his apartment of Washington, DC, after taking a pill laced with the powerful opioid.

However, they quickly began investigating how the woman died, with the help of federal prosecutors and the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

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It all started with some text messages and a handful of pills. Thus authorities unraveled a massive fentanyl distribution network that extended from the DC area to California and Mexico.

Until now, 25 people have been charged. According to court documents, traffickers did business with impunity, primarily on Instagram, and smuggled fentanyl-laced pills in candy boxes. The pills mimicked the appearance of Percocet and other prescription opioids.

The investigation was part of a DEA initiative called OD Justicean effort to take overdose deaths to try to hold traffickers accountable and put a dent in the flow of fentanyl.

“We are conducting hundreds of investigations like this across the United States,” DEA Director Anne Milgram told NBC News.

Selling on social networks

Investigators used messages on Diamond Lynch’s phone to find the dealers who sold him the lethal dose, Milgram said. “Then we expanded it to who supplied them. We tracked it to Los Angeles, San Diego and finally to Mexico.”

In a research called Operation Blues Brothersdue to the blue color of the deadly pills), federal agents benefited from the carelessness of accused drug traffickers, who communicated through social media messages that can be easily obtained with court orders. This also showed how “Social networks have become the drug superhighway”according to Milgram.

“What we see day after day across America,” he said, “is that these pills (the fentanyl that is killing Americans) are being sold openly on Snapchat, TikTok, Facebook Marketplace and Instagram.”

Fentanyl is the deadliest drug threat we have ever seen in the United States.

Anne Milgram, director of the DEA.

Milgram detailed that “these people used Instagram for almost every aspect of their business. They used it to choose the blue color of the (pills) they bought from wholesalers to sell on the streets. They were using it to coordinate shipments from Los Angeles to DC They were using it to organize payments. “Basically, Instagram facilitates every part of the business which, in this case, ultimately resulted in Diamond’s death.”

Meta, owner of Facebook and Instagram, declined to comment on the case. The company has said that the sale of drugs is prohibited on its platform and that the problem of the fentanyl crisis is a “society-wide” problem.

The involvement of the Sinaloa Cartel

Two of the 25 defendants pleaded guilty: Larry Jerome Eastman and his sister, Justice Michelle Eastman, who admitted to supplying the drugs that killed Diamond Lynch. He was sentenced to more than 11 years in prison and she to just over three years. The other defendants pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy, drug and weapons trafficking, among others.

​According to court records and an internal DEA document obtained by NBC News, investigators seized nearly 95,000 fentanyl-laced pills linked to the ring and more than 14 pounds of the drug, enough to kill more than 400,000 Americans.

At the same time, Milgram acknowledged that law enforcement does not appear to be making a dent in the overall flow of fentanyl into the United States, and that the risk to drug users is greater than ever.

“We have seized almost 70 million fake pills that contain fentanyl this year to date,” the DEA administrator said. “Last year, throughout the year, we seized about 58 million. Now, seven out of 10 of those pills contain a potentially fatal dose. Last year it was six out of 10.”

Milgram warned that “fentanyl is the deadliest drug threat we have ever seen in the United States.”

Court records say investigators found Larry and Michelle Eastman through CashApp transactions on Diamond Lynch’s phone, which led them to photos of him on Instagram displaying cash and drugs.

The Eastmans’ evidence led authorities to a larger retail network in D.C., which purchased drugs from a wholesale network in California, records show. Instagram photos showed members of the California group posing with illegal weapons, some of which were seized in court-ordered searches.

The Californians They bought their drugs from the Sinaloa Cartel in Mexico, which manufactures them using precursors imported from China, according to authorities.

“Why are the cartels sending more pills and fentanyl to the United States?” Milgram questioned. “Why do they make them stronger and deadlier? And the short answer is that all they care about is making money and selling more. They want people to get addicted to fentanyl. That way they sell more. “So the fact that some people die… they see it as the cost of doing business.”

“A chemical war against the Americans”

Diamond Lynch’s mother, Paula Lynch, knew her daughter had a drug problem. She had overdosed before, but she was saved with two doses of Narcan, which can counteract the effects of opioids.

However, Paula told NBC News that she had no idea how much risk her daughter was taking by purchasing what she thought were prescription opioid pills from a street dealer.

“We didn’t know,” he said. “I thought it was more of a recreational thing. … We never heard the word ‘fentanyl’ until she passed away.”

Paula, who is now raising her grandson, says she will forever regret not being able to help her daughter.

“What I would say to young people is that a pill can definitely kill,” he said. “It’s chemical warfare against American”.