Fentanyl is 50 times stronger than heroin. How strong is that? It’s so strong that it only takes 2 milligrams—the equivalent of four grains of salt—to kill you, according to a former federal drug enforcement agent. Put another way, he says, 1 gram of fentanyl could potentially kill 500 people.

“We got to make sure we understand that there’s obviously illicit fentanyl, which is what we’re seeing all over America now. But the legal fentanyl that’s made is a very powerful opioid, a synthetic opioid that is made to help people with pain,” says Derek Maltz, a retired special agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration. “And like I said, it’s used in [intravenous] drips for cancer patients and people with severe back pain. And that’s the stuff that is prescribed by doctors in hospitals.”

“But the synthetic opioid fentanyl that we’re talking about now, in my opinion, is really not a drug. We’re calling it fentanyl, but it’s really like poison, because it’s made in dirty, filthy labs in Mexico,” he says.

Maltz joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to discuss when he first encountered fentanyl, who the victims of fentanyl are, and what the path forward for the U.S. is in fighting it.

Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript:

Samantha Aschieris: Derek Maltz is joining the podcast today. He worked as a special agent for the Drug Enforcement [Administration] for 28 years. Derek, thank you so much for joining us.

Derek Maltz: Thank you for having me.

Aschieris: Now, in the last year or so, we’ve seen headlines nearly every day about the fentanyl crisis plaguing our country. As I mentioned, you worked for the Drug Enforcement [Administration] for nearly 30 years. And before we talk about the fentanyl crisis, can you tell us about your work with the DEA and what operations you were a part of or oversaw?

Maltz: I was an agent in the DEA for 28 years. I worked most of my career in New York as a field agent, but when I went to Washington, I worked at the Special Operations Division, which is the synchronization center, help to coordinate and work all the different agencies’ investigations together.

I actually was promoted to the head of the New York Drug Task Force in Manhattan to the Senior Executive Service, the largest and oldest task force in America. And then, in 2005, I came down as the agent in charge of the DEA Special Operations Division in 2005, which, at the time, had nine agencies. When I retired, it was up to 30 agencies.

So the priority for the operation was to synchronize efforts between all the agencies going after transnational criminal threats like the Mexican cartel.

Aschieris: Wow, that is really interesting. I want to talk more about the fentanyl crisis and just from your experience in the DEA, going back to, where did you first encounter fentanyl and what was your and even the agency’s initial reaction to it?

Maltz: OK, great question. When I was the head of the Special Operations Division around 2005, we started seeing lots of death in the Midwest of America. Had no idea what was going on. It turns out that there was a fentanyl lab in Mexico, in Toluca, Mexico.

The DEA in Chicago worked with the local police and law enforcement, and then worked with the Mexican counterparts, and they identified a deadly fentanyl lab in 2005, 2006. And there were literally 100 or so deaths at that time. But I didn’t know that fentanyl was actually in the street drugs. I knew fentanyl to be a pain medicine, an opioid that was used in hospitals with cancer patients in severe pain.

So it really then went away. I didn’t know or hear about it. And then, around 2012, we started seeing fentanyl being shipped to America from China in the mail services. And we started seeing a lot of deaths in America that were reported initially as heroin overdoses. When autopsy reports came back, many of these were actually fentanyl-related deaths.

So that was kind of like the first time. But then, in 2013, 2014, at my operation, it was getting so bad that we opened up what we called Operation Deadly Merchant because we felt that there had to be a prioritization on the fentanyl new trend that we started seeing between the Chinese and the Mexican cartels.

So we briefed the former attorney general, Eric Holder. We put together fentanyl awareness brochures, handed them out to law enforcement, started having conferences and meetings around America to push out this information because we felt that fentanyl was 50 times more potent than heroin, and we thought this was going to be a really, really bad situation in America.

But let me just back up real quick. Earlier, out of China, 2009, 2010, we started seeing the dumping of synthetic drugs into America under K2, spice, bath salts, which was doing a lot of damage in America with emergency room visits, sometimes death. Poison control centers were getting flooded with calls. No one knew what this was.

Those were synthetic drugs being produced in Chinese labs. And the Chinese brokers were sending those drugs right to America and people were being harmed. And then they converted—those drugs, they started moving toward the fentanyl around 2012.

So it’s been an evolution of these synthetic drugs, which are very deadly, very dangerous, and now destroying America.

Aschieris: And you’ve talked about this a little bit so far, but for people who might not be familiar with what exactly fentanyl is, can you just take a moment to break down what it is and how does it compare to other drugs that people might be more familiar with?

Maltz: OK. We got to make sure we understand that there’s obviously illicit fentanyl, which is what we’re seeing all over America now. But the legal fentanyl that’s made is a very powerful opioid, a synthetic opioid that is made to help people with pain. And like I said, it’s used in IV drips for cancer patients and people with severe back pain. And that’s the stuff that is prescribed by doctors in hospitals.

But the synthetic opioid fentanyl that we’re talking about now, in my opinion, is really not a drug. We’re calling it fentanyl, but it’s really like poison because it’s made in dirty, filthy labs in Mexico. The chemicals are coming from Chinese chemical brokers, and it’s being put into heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine.

But now what they’re doing is they’re making all these fake pills. So they’re taking the powdered fentanyl, illicit fentanyl, they’re then using pill presses and they’re making pills that they’re selling, and they’re purported to be oxycodone, Percocet, Xanax, and in some cases, even Adderall.

So American, young kids as an example, that are under a lot of anxiety or have depression, they know that Xanax, if you get it from a doctor, is a legitimate anti-anxiety med. So they want to feel better under a lot of pressure, so they’re buying these illicitly made fake pills and it’s killing them instantly because fentanyl is 50 times stronger than heroin and it only takes 2 milligrams, which is an equivalent to four grains of salt, to kill you. So it’s super powerful.

So let me give you one example because this is the one I use a lot and people can understand it. You know those little sweetener packets that you have in Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts, 7-Eleven? One gram of that sweetener, if that was 1 gram of fentanyl, that’s could potentially kill 500 people.

Aschieris: Wow.

Maltz: That’s how deadly it is. So it’s being mixed in all these different drugs. So the illicit drug supply is absolutely tainted and poisoned by this new substance, this illicitly made substance called fentanyl.

Aschieris: Wow. And we’ve been talking about how incredibly lethal this drug is. So my question would be, why would drug dealers want to essentially kill their customers?

Maltz: Great question. It’s the No. 1 question we always get asked. So it’s a two-part answer. No. 1, you got to remember that the Chinese are behind this madness, as I call it. They started it. They’re providing all the chemicals. They’re providing the money laundering services for the cartels, and they have what we call the unrestricted warfare. They wanted to stabilize America. And by selling this poisonous substance to America, will kill our future generation, take away our future military leaders, our nurses, our doctors, our school teachers, our bus drivers, our plumbers, electricians.

So they want to hurt this country, and that’s what they’re doing. And they’re using the Mexican cartels as the proxy to deliver the deadly substance in America. They don’t want to be the face of it directly.

But here’s the thing, what people don’t understand is this stuff is so addictive. Not everybody that takes a pill with fentanyl is going to die because there’s no magical formula when they make this stuff and they mix this stuff. They’re not [Food and Drug Administration] chemists that are making this stuff. So there’s no consistency in the products they’re putting out. So it’s like advanced Russian roulette. The cartels want to maximize profits. They don’t want to kill their customers, but they don’t really care if customers die because they’re gaining all these new customers.

Right now, in America, because the smartphones and because of the apps like Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, the younger population that are addicted to these devices, and their videos, and their reels, they have instant access to buy this stuff online. So there’s a whole new user base from the ages of, let’s say, 12 to 19, that, historically, would never be buying drugs off the internet. So now you have just massive customers that are coming out of the woodwork all around America that the cartels are making a fortune from.

And you also have to remember with the wide-open border and the amount of money the cartels are making from the massive border crisis with the human smuggling, they are making billions and billions of dollars. They have a steady flow of chemicals from China. The money laundering services have been done so effectively, efficiently. So business is booming. They really don’t care about killing a few Americans, cartel.

Aschieris: Yeah. And can you speak more to who exactly are the victims of fentanyl? Is there a specific hot spot in the United States or is it more broadly just hitting communities throughout the country?

Maltz: Great question. And the answer is, I work with thousands of families every day. I’ve become, as they say, the voice of the voiceless because no one seems to be talking about this issue out of the White House or key agencies in the government. And the families are very, very upset. They’re putting their own grief into action. But I could tell you, every state in America is being impacted by fentanyl poisoning.

Just to give you some statistics, to give you an idea, in Los Angeles, they recently revealed that there’s been a 1,280% increase in fentanyl-related deaths in the last five years, 2016 through 2021. In San Diego, it’s up to 2,375%. And in the state of California, it’s 2,200%.

The fentanyl deaths are escalating just about in every state. There are some states that we’ve seen some decline. But Ohio, and Pennsylvania, and New York—I mean, they seized a ton of fentanyl last year in New York alone. So we have this problem all throughout America.

It’s not going after one class of people. As a matter of fact, the African American community is being hit the hardest, according to a lot of the reports that are coming out. It’s not discriminating against anyone. It’s not a red or a blue issue, it’s a red, white, and blue issue.

But people in America are not talking about it as much. They should be talking about this every day. There’s a family in Wisconsin that came up with a great idea, calling it the “F-word.” So we have a new F-word in America, and that’s fentanyl. So maybe people are going to start.

But, Samantha, one of the big issues and problems that I’m having—and I’ve been pushing this for a couple years, doing documentaries, and border stories, and working with the families, going to Congress—one of the things that’s really frustrating is that the young kids in America today are not watching mainstream media, Fox News, cable news. They’re not watching CNN. They’re not watching any of these news stories. They’re not even listening to a lot of these podcasts.

What they’re doing is they’re obsessing on TikTok, Instagram, and other social media, Snapchat, watching videos all day. They’re not hearing any of this news.

And the problem is, is the parents in America are not getting educated on what this is. This is not a drug crisis like we’ve ever seen in the country. This is not about smoking marijuana and getting high. This is about taking a fake pill, or snorting a line of cocaine, or using meth and dying instantly. And so, this is something new.

And unfortunately, our role models, influencers, professional athletes, they’re avoiding the topic totally because the stigma of a drug crisis. Nobody wants to get involved. And that’s why it’s really, really bad now. And besides the fact that our drug star’s office, our White House, they’re not putting out public service announcements. They’re not talking about it during prime-time sports, for example, where kids are watching. So it’s absolutely horrendous what’s going on.

And the reason I get so fired up and passionate is because I listen to the stories every day of the families that are finding their 13-year-old kid blue in their bedroom, dead at the computer or in the bed, and they didn’t even know what fentanyl was. When the autopsy report comes back, they are devastated, not only because they lost their kid, but, “What the hell is this fentanyl?” That’s what they’re saying.

So it’s really, really disturbing. It’s very, very sad. And we’re going to continue to push the messaging out. But it’s worse than people think. Fortunately, because of the families—not because of the government, because of the families—they started a grassroots operation around the country. They have nonprofits. They do educational speaking at schools and in community events. And they’re really starting to get the word out. So hopefully we’ll start seeing declining death numbers.

Aschieris: I also wanted to ask you, you’ve been talking about leadership coming out of the White House and from our government leaders. If you were able to sit down with President [Joe] Biden, if you had the opportunity to talk to him, what would you either ask him to do regarding the fentanyl crisis or what would you tell him, an important message that you want him to hear?

Maltz: Well, first of all, I would use his own words and ask him a simple question. Not to be a wise guy, but just to be very blunt, OK? President Biden in December of last year had a press release where he talked about how the drug crisis is an extraordinary and unique national security threat, an alarming national security threat to America. So the first question would be, “Then why the hell is the border wide open?” No. 1.

No. 2, when the president then politically answered that question, I would ask him, “Don’t you care about young kids and our future generation dying, 9,000 a month are dying? Why are you not addressing America on this fentanyl crisis? Why are you still confusing the public with this opioid crisis? This is not what we’re talking about.”

Yes, there are many, many Americans, sadly, addicted to opioids, that can’t get away from opioids, that they were taken when the corporate cartels bombed America with 100 billion opioids over a nine-year period. A lot of Americans got addicted.

Kid goes to the doctor, gets a root canal, the doctor unfortunately gives them 50 or 100 oxycodone. Well, the thing is, these kids then got addicted, then they go to the street, they buy heroin, they buy pills, and a lot of them have even eventually died. But President Biden, I’d want to know, why are you allowing the cartels to flood our streets with poisonous fentanyl?

Let’s put the politics aside. Go talk to the communities, especially the African American communities, because they’re getting hit the hardest, and let’s talk about why we’re allowing Americans to die at historic levels. Makes no sense. And we need to hold him accountable for that.

And not just President Biden, but look at what the secretary of homeland security is telling Americans on a regular basis, which is an outright lie—and I’m not playing politics—that he has operational control of the border. Anybody that watches a video on the border right now today can see it’s a catastrophic disaster, a humanitarian crisis, a public health crisis, and a national security crisis, all at once, unfolding.

And every single American is going to be impacted by this illegal immigration and all these aliens coming into this country from 150 countries, 160 countries around the world. We have no idea who these “gotaways” are. They’re running around our streets, could be plotting another terrorist attack.

So President Biden would have to answer to a lot of questions with me because I’ve been following this evolution of these problems for many years.

Aschieris: So, Derek, just one final question for you. What is the path forward? How do we fix this crisis in our country?

Maltz: Well, No. 1, you have to start with such amazing education at the youngest levels. You have to stop kids from using illicit drugs, period. And that’s going to require a full-blown effort in every school, mandatory school, PSAs, all over the news. Recruit public figures like professional athletes, influencers on social media, and stuff like that, celebrities, and get everyone the message to put it out across the country so everyone can see the message together. That’s No. 1.

The White House has to start being more honest about what’s going on, what’s killing the Americans, not opioid pills. That’s back in the ’90s and 2000s.

We also have to get real on the following issue, that the Mexican cartels have an unlimited supply of these pills and this fentanyl right now. So we have to have a very serious meeting at the highest levels with the Mexican authorities, with every one of our leaders down there at once to be able to explain to the authorities that the cartels are killing our kids like we’ve never seen before and we need their support.

Right now, the Mexican military and the Mexican authorities are not going after the cartels like they should be. They’re not destroying these deadly chemical weapon labs like they should be.

So at the end of the day, if they don’t cooperate and they don’t jump on board, within a very short window, we got to hold them accountable. We must first declare the cartels as terrorists and then we have to treat them as terrorists that were creating a biological weapon right across our border. If ISIS or al-Qaeda had biological weapons, chemical weapons in Mexico, we wouldn’t be treating this situation the same way.

And if the Mexicans didn’t cooperate, we have to use the greatest military in the world, the intelligence community, law enforcement in a task force arena, and we have to start precision strikes on these deadly labs. We’re not talking about a war with Mexico. We’re not talking about putting boots on the ground, anything like that. We have a clear and present danger to Americans’ national security, so we have to respond appropriately.

Right now, we’re not even talking about it. So we have a tremendous amount of work to do, but it starts with being honest with the public and educating the public.

And we also have to shut down the border. We have to keep these people in Mexico. If they have asylum claims, we have to reinstate “Remain in Mexico” policies. We can’t have President Biden being known as the migrant president. We can’t have a message go out to the world that the border of America is wide open and you can come in and get food, clothing, housing, health care for free. That’s unacceptable.

We have to have a legal immigration system where we bring immigrants in that can add value to the country. We have to require Remain in Mexico. We have to put more pressure on the Mexico government. Right now, we can’t have the “soft on crime” policy. That’s why our country is collapsing.

Look at what’s happening in the cities of America. Just look, just watch the news. Look at the crime stats. Walking down the streets of New York, getting hit in the head with a baseball bat, or going into the subway system and getting beat up to death almost. It’s unacceptable. Crime is off the chart.

And they have to start supporting law enforcement because we had a period of time where “defund police” rhetoric was very popular. Right now, anyone could see that that’s a failure, monumental failure. So there’s a lot of work to be done.

And as time goes on every day, we’re losing valuable time and we’re losing so many young Americans. As we just sat on this call, just think about how many kids in this country have died. If we’re losing 300 a day, just think, we’ve lost a couple of Americans just as we’re on this phone. And all these families, 300 a day, are getting that phone call that their kid has died from drugs. And that’s not getting any better.

So, yeah. Thank you very much. I appreciate your time and effort and anytime you need any help, you call me.

Aschieris: Thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

Maltz: Thank you.

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