Massachusetts officials detail multimillion-dollar heroin bust

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 29, 2015 5:42 PM

(Reuters) - Police have arrested a man suspected of being at the heart of the heroin trade in the Boston area and seized more than 30 pounds (14 kg) of the drug with a street value exceeding $2 million, authorities said on Monday.

The seizure of the drug, which was mixed with the painkiller fentanyl, comes as Northeastern states are struggling to contain a surge in overdose deaths related to heroin and other opioid drugs.

The alleged trafficker, Jose Casellas, 37, of Lawrence, Massachusetts, was charged on Friday with two counts of trafficking heroin as well as firearms charges and ordered held on $2 million bail.

"This defendant led a major heroin and fentanyl distribution operation, putting these lethal drugs onto our streets and into the hands of those struggling with addiction," Maura Healey, the state's attorney general, told reporters in Danvers, Massachusetts, north of Boston.

She stood before a table covered with evidence bags containing heroin, cocaine, firearms and drug paraphernalia seized during the investigation.

An attorney for Casellas could not be reached for comment.

At least 1,000 people died in Massachusetts of opioid overdoses in 2014, according to state officials. Heroin overdose deaths in the United States tripled from 2010 to 2013, according to a study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with most users turning to heroin after using prescription opioids.

The mixture of heroin with fentanyl has proven a particularly deadly combination, officials said.

Massachusetts State Police Colonel Timothy Alben said police believed Casellas was part of a drug ring that distributed the fentanyl-laced heroin across Massachusetts and neighboring New Hampshire.

(Reporting by Jacqueline Tempera; Editing by Scott Malone and Peter Cooney)