Jerry joined the show to talk fentanyl, xylazine, enforcement, and a ton of other topics.
About Jerry: Executive Director of the Liberty Mid Atlantic High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA). Prior to his appointment as Director, he served 25 years with the Philadelphia Police Department, with command assignments in Patrol, Civil Affairs, Training Bureau and Narcotics Division, retiring as an Inspector.
Jerry received his Bachelor of Arts from Temple University in Criminal Justice, and a Master in Business Administration from Holy Family University. He also completed courses of study at the Northwestern University Traffic Institute (now Center for Public Safety); the FBI National Academy, the John F. Kennedy School of Government, and the Naval Post-Graduate School.
Jerry is a life-long resident of Philadelphia.Support the show
Make sure to check out Jason on IG @drjasonpiccolo
His career spanned way more than just his 20 plus years worth of drugs. 1979 is when he first put on a badge first stepped into this arena. Jerry, welcome to the show. Thank you, Jason. Good to be with you. And I'm so glad actually talking to you in person. We've done an article or two before we've talked on the phone. We've we've pinned ideas back and forth, but there's such a such an issue. Issue such a bad word for it, but there's an epidemic and has a bearing. Yeah, epidemic is fair. You know, growing up, you know, you and I both know, you probably got a couple years on me but the war on drugs, the 1980s, the cocaine, the marijuana, everything falling across the board, the border, the crack the everything else, but now we're dealing with fentanyl and not just fentanyl. Now again, what xylazine now, before we get into the the fentanyl epidemic, the fentanyl scourge. Let's get into xylazine because that's like something that's like it's really staying under the radar, that public perception right now the public knowledge. What is xylazine xylazine is a veterinary medication is a sedative used primarily on larger mammals, horses cattle of that size, in a clinical setting to reduce. Not so much pain, but agitation while being treated in a veterinary clinic, is kind of comparable in some respects to a tranquilizer for humans. In that regard, when you go in for a colonoscopy or whatnot, you know, you're getting some anesthesia, but you're also getting a sedative. And that's basically what xylazine is for animals and veterinary use. That said, what we're seeing happen is the those veterinary medications are being diverted from its appropriate use to the illicit drug supply, largely in conjunction with fentanyl, but it had preceded phenols arrival as well. Here in Philadelphia goes back it's was detected in a mortality as far back as 2006. So it's been around for a while. It's just exploded over the last four or five years. From Philadelphia outward. And now it's appearing all parts of the United States. Now, when we were talking before the email or anywhere else, he was Puerto Rico and in kind of into the space of this island scene. Yeah, we've, you know, if you trace the history of it, there was always a certain level of misuse, abuse, whatever term you want to use of xylazine in Puerto Rico, largely in the agrarian parts of the Commonwealth, their middle of the island, as they see of the BIOSes was hauled in was used as a recreational drug. And it does have addictive properties does cause withdrawal if you've already developed a dependency if you stop using it. And with the migration of folks from Puerto Rico to Philadelphia metropolitan area, as well as New York and Providence in other parts of the northeastern United States, in particular, some of the folks that had I was independencies and use it carried on and we started to see it coming in and larger quantities. When we talk about xylazine. We talked about the high we talked with withdrawals, we talked about the addictive pattern of it. When they're mixing them of fentanyl. It extends the hi it or can you guys sit on I've never. That's the anecdotal information that we get that a person who was accustomed to using heroin, for instance, had a fairly large initial bump from the heroine's effects after injecting or snorting it. And then a long tail if you want to call it on the buzz from it the the physiological and psychological effects of it lasted over a fairly good period of time four to six hours something along those lines they say so And when the market switched from heroin to fentanyl, and there's a whole, you know, I guess you would say line of discussion there of what happened with that. But when it did switch to fentanyl, largely, what they found was fentanyl had a very high peak right after injection, but then went down rather rapidly, kind of like you get on one of the roller coasters at one of the theme parks, you get that climb up to the top and it's at the very top and you go down the hill, and then it's rolling around for a little while. Well, the rollout wasn't very much. And so people had to re inject or ingest fentanyl more frequently than they did with heroin. Someone came up with the idea of adding sedative to it and there has always been a degree of poly drug poly substance use of heroin and and benzodiazepines, tranquilizers, Xanax in the past because of restrictions on dispensing benzos. Now, similar to opiate pills, opioid pills, it became harder to get that so someone came up with the idea of using xylazine to adultery, the fentanyl to get that longer tail of effect. Narcan yeah Narcan helps with the fentanyl overdoses with the opioids but now you're Adigun xylazine and you're a street cop and you're out there and you're like, Okay, you encounter someone Odeon. And you're administering Narcan and for everybody that doesn't know what Narcan what is Narcan. Lark is a brand name of naloxone, it's an opioid antagonist, it reverses the effects of an opioid of any sort, whether that's a prescribed pill or medically administered Anis and Stasia for street drug use, such as codeine, hydrocodone, heroin, fentanyl, or any of the fentanyl related substances. It will unbind the opioid molecules from the brain receptor and kind of block their effect from occurring. And that's important because in the course of an overdose, a person will stop breathing. It is a central nervous system and the president, people will stop breathing, the heart rates will go down, and they can be very quickly succumb to it unless it's reversed. And that's what the rescue drug Naloxone or Narcan is used for. So then when you throw xylazine on there, which isn't an opioid, it's a tranquilizer, you can't really just shoot someone up with a here's a Narcan bone. It has it has no effect whatsoever on the xylazine. So what you'll have if it's a poly drug combination of that no one xylazine let's say you'll have somebody who is breathing again, but completely out of it. unconscious, unable to be will walk in and so forth. And when they feel the effects, if they're very much opioid dependent, they're going to be suffering from opioid withdrawal. Because Naloxone does bring one a sudden withdrawal symptom set, including, you know, kind of body aches, vomiting, all sorts of discomfort, if you will, because they're in this somnolent state from the tranquilizer won't be as apparent. But it also will not enable a first responder, whether it's a police officer EMS person, to get the person up and along the way, in some respects, that's good, because maybe we can get them to the hospital and maybe we can get them a warm handoff situation into a treatment regime. But in other respects, it creates a problem when you're dealing with citizen rescuers, you know, people who carry Narcan for all the right reasons, and they tried to revive somebody and it doesn't work. What's the next step? Well, you may have to provide CPR, you may have to provide a rescue, you may still need to get some sort of medical attention. Now we think of as xylazine to I've heard about the flesh eating part of it. I mean, when you have fat phenols it's horrible in itself. It's killing I mean, it's absolutely killing everywhere in this country. People are dying from it. It's like and you know, the potential of mass death with it is pretty significant. But now we're we're adding on another. When you say the poly drug, we're adding something in there that's actually making people kind of rip their skin off. I mean, what is the flesh eating? Part of this flesh eating is probably a little a little, a little Yeah, a little Yeah, historical in some respects, but injected. injectable drug users that are using a powerful combination include xylazine they've been founded develop necrotizing skin wounds, meaning, you know that skin is literally dying through all the various layers. And open sores are prevalent to the point where I mean, it literally gets if it's not treated, flushes falling off people that there's been, you know, I guess any number of illustrations with us and media of various sorts, but it really is shocking. When you see someone who's continuously injecting this right at the same spot that their skin is coming off. There's, from what I gather from the medical community, it's not clear why the xylazine does this, whether it is the drug itself, the toxin, the drug itself, if you will, whether it's because it represses blood circulation, so much like the way a diabetic may have problems with extremities, you know, due to lack of blood flow to them and may lead to amputation. So that's a possibility. But the bottom line is without care without being treated. That person is in danger of developing gangrene and mortal effects. What I like to say about xylazine it's the drug that literally risks both life and limb. That's a big thing. I always bring up Tom people about when it's not just the death part, it's the loss of limb as a loss of sight is a loss of lots of different things. Now Philly has been referred to as like the ground zero, the ground zero of the xylazine. Now you work for High Intensity Drug trafficking area unit, which means there's a lot of these different task forces throughout the country, and you have a pretty great information sharing capability within the federal and local and state levels in law enforcement and in the medical community. Has, have you seen the xylazine spreading out from the Philly area? Oh, absolutely. In fact, you know, there's a really good illustration that the Pennsylvania Department of Public Health shows over a five year period of health xylazine detections, and xylazine related deaths moved from Southeastern Pennsylvania, specifically Philadelphia, back in, say, 2015 or 16, then county by county starts blossoming outward across the Commonwealth. Until the point, I guess it was 2022 data showed that all but two to three counties in Pennsylvania had some xylazine related fatality. Now as long as he is on scheduled, or is it, it isn't it isn't it is not scheduled at the federal level. And that's been one of the challenges for those of us in law enforcement in terms of addressing the problem to this point. It is at least in three states. And maybe for now, because you're so Delaware may have been coming forward. This is now a scheduled three drug in Pennsylvania, Florida, was the third state I can't think of the third state. But nonetheless, it is just now getting the attention of state legislatures and state drug control authorities have to schedule a lot of carve outs in that space as scheduled three drugs. First of all, it's not as tightly regulated as a schedule one or two drugs is concerned. But it does allow veterinary clinics and such to protect their supply of it in a much larger and much more secure. storage space. It does require registration of the suppliers and registration of the consumers the legitimate consumers of pharmaceutical xylazine. And it does allow law enforcement to get a foot in the door if they find zero evidence of xylazine diversion or trafficking in the street market, the illicit market to enforce against that. All that said, it's by no means a parent see it? Because we know where you press in on one part of this balloon, it pops out at another end. So already there's at least some indication that the legitimate pharmaceutical supplies that are being diverted, the tightening of that is resulting in illicit clandestine manufacturer of xylazine. In China, China, we're gonna figure we're talking about scheduled drugs. Cocaine is what a schedule, schedule your schedule really Hear because there are others legitimate uses for cooking, what doesn't have a legitimate use? Well, marijuana according to the RO, hey, we'll talk about that another day. That's a whole other topic area, heroin diacetylmorphine is not a legitimate medical use, it has a high potential for abuse. And it's determined to be a danger to the public. So that's what constitutes a schedule one drug schedule. Twos are those that have legitimate medical uses, but also have a high propensity for misuse or abuse. So that's the distinction between the two methamphetamine schedule one amphetamine schedule to actually some amphetamines or even lower schedule three, and so for like Adderall and whatnot, you know, so. So it depends on the if you want to call it the established medical utility of the substance, as well as the propensity for it to be misused or abused. xylazine sucks. It's horrible. It's probably going to be one of the worst things out there. But the the main concept is, it's it's being attached to fentanyl. So in order to understand the whole system, we really have to understand fentanyl, you have to understand the whole opioid crisis and all that goes with it, the evolution of it. I mean, I think it's fair to say that, you know, we're somewhere is around the opioid crisis, version 3.5. Now, some people say four, some people say three, or somewhere in that range. And again, this goes back to poly substance consumption, whether it's, you know, fentanyl, and Thylacine, or whether it's fentanyl and methamphetamine or fentanyl, and PCP or what have you. But there's a lot of onboarding of multiple substances, either intentionally or innocuously to the person who's using it that is adding to the problem compounding the issue. And to the point of fentanyl and xylazine you made earlier. Fentanyl kills quickly. If you are an opioid naive as they say opioid naive, I don't have any tolerance for it. A few grains of fentanyl can kill you right there. And when we initially saw fentanyl hit the scene we were seeing people dead right there, as they say, with needles in their arms. It soon as it hit their, their their brains, it shut down, the breathing it shut down their their their blood pressure it shut down their heart rate and they were dead right there. xylazine won't do that. At least as far as I know. But over a longer period of time, it will take your life because of the necrotizing skin wounds, the effects it's having on circulation and things like that. That's, you know, so much like other substances of abuse. Methamphetamines. Okay. It takes a while for those to usually take someone out unless there's an underlying medical condition that would be aggravated by the substance of fentanyl. Let's talk about it. Let's talk about we know hits here where we're in Philadelphia, we're gonna go down and we're going to take a look at some of the areas affected by fentanyl. But the thing is the origination of it. I mean, legitimate medical uses, perhaps but we're talking when you have such a supply and demand area, you have to have mass supply, you have to have precursors, you have to have additives, you have to have all this stuff. And so much of everybody always points their finger boom, right? The China, everything goes back to China. So is that kind of what we're looking at about what the flow of everything you need China to Mexico to the US or do we have domestic based or let's just get really basic? Well, I can't say that there's been no domestic fentanyl production. There has been and we found one up in northeastern Pennsylvania around Bucknell University area a few years back, but it's a rarity to find that domestic production of fentanyl, it can be done. It's not a terribly complicated process, but it's just not cost effective. Because of all the controls domestically on the precursor substances needed to manufacture it. For Mexico, they had pretty good capacity for producing synthetic substances. The The methamphetamine, crystal meth production facilities are pretty extensive. And going back to I guess it was 2005. A cartel operative, who was employed to produce meth, or the screw around a little bit. And in this lab in Toluca, Mexico, just outside of Mexico City, made some fat. He made maybe 10 kilograms of it. And children's bosses, the bosses weren't exactly thrilled because they're like, What am I going to do with this? You know, this is not we want to do to make it. This is what, let's try this, let's see. And they moved those 10 kilograms into the United States and places like Chicago, Detroit, Philly places that have an appetite at that time for heroin. And it went through these communities like, I don't know what, you know, the Grim Reaper, it was killing people extensively, from 2005, to 2007. With the help of the Mexican authorities, Drug Enforcement Administration was able to identify where this lab was, they shut it down. But the lesson learned for the Mexican cartels was, we can produce something that's got a market, United States that doesn't require us to grow poppies in the mountains and pay peasant workers to harvest them and then go through all the processing of those opium pods and things like that, to produce her when we can do this stuff in a lab with some chemicals with our own chemists. And so we think this is all speculative, you know, we think that's how today's Fentanyl crisis was born. And because it is dependent on precursor chemicals, those chemicals are controlled, regulated, I guess is a better word than controlled, but regulated substances, they can be just gone, go to your local chemical supply house and get it. Because of that, a lot of times, the easier route is to go to Shady if not illegal operations out of China, to ship the precursor chemicals to Mexico. And then from there, have it refined into fentanyl and then brought into the United States. Now we talk in pill form, powder form. What is fentanyl? I mean? Like, let's um, you know, coming from the military background, I say dumb it down to the private level. So they they understand exactly. I want the public to understand like, what are we looking at you? I mean, because when we look on a news, you're looking at pills, yeah. But are we using powder form wheezing? I mean, how do you ingest it as injectable? I mean, really basic in the first few years of the federal crisis, if you will, so roughly 2015. forward to about 2020, let's say it was almost always seen in powder for Crystal and federal hydrochloride, basically. And it was an injectable drug, but it could also be inhaled, and sulfated. Self administered that way as well. For the most part, people were injecting instead of heroin, or because they didn't have any choice of heroin. It was what was available that fits their opioid dependency cravings. But around the late 20 teens, and we started to see federal being pressed into counterfeit Oxycodone tablets. Oxycodone, of course, was the drug of choice that really fueled a lot of the opioid crises around the country, particularly in areas that had not seen her when being available. So places like Appalachia and rural communities, pills were readily available in a lot of those places from doctors, some legitimate prescription, some just, you know, pill mills, basically, the Mexicans recognize that they could press this into a pill form and mimic itself for a lot cheaper than they could obtain legitimate oxys. So that's what they did. Of course, there was irregularities in the potencies the uniformity if you will, of those each titration On vary greatly, and boatload of overdoses from that. Since then, they've kind of also recognize that, in some respects, it's easier to market the pills. To particularly young people, it's also somewhat easier to transport the pills rather than in powder form and break them up. So you'll see continuously reports from the southwest border of 20,000 100,000 300,000 pills being seized at a shot, which I can go into some stash house that are going to be broken down into 10,000 fuel units are gonna be broken into 1000 units for distribution at the retail level. So we have pill machines coming in from China was one of my friends, or transnational crime for Homeland Security Investigations and testifying in front of Congress about how these pill machines are getting. You're pretty much one stop shop in Mexico, you get the machines, you get the precursors, you get everything, you guys get everything, ingredients and so forth. You can get it all. And for that matter, although it's again, regulated, you can go online right now and look up a cold pressed machine. probably find it on Amazon. Obtaining it, actually, that you registered with the Drug Enforcement ministry, and so on. So what if you're doing this clandestinely? Well, obviously you're going to do it through some other channel. And oftentimes, that means, you know, a black market operation is getting all of it might be from Mexico might be from Canada might be from the United States. We have a pipeline coming to the US from all different facets, you have air, land, sea, it's like a military operation, get mail, mail, and parcel commercial, parcel Express everywhere. It says like the cartels have been doing this game for 4050 years. They interesting. Logistic Yeah, exactly. As federal agents, you know, I'm retired. We know you come and go, you come and go, your knowledge base comes and goes and you're continuously learning. The cartel has it down to a science, it's familiar born now seems. But you're also seeing different people getting into the game. We know that drugs come across the border. We know they get here. It's a supply and demand. But are we seeing violent, more violent upticks here people trying to control more than market people coming from outside of the cartel areas? Or is it just basically still the cartels running the show? I can't say that at from this perch here that we're seeing higher level cartel operatives, waging war with one another for some share of market where we see violence is usually at the retail level, maybe at a mid level supply level. Oftentimes, it's a robbery kind of sibling situation that goes badly trying to steal somebody else's stash for cash. But we're not seeing the same kind of inter cartel violence that is occurring in Mexico, and in some southwest border communities. Down on the border, Southwest border region, the whole different ballgame. You got a lot of different things going on down there, including the migration wave and so forth that are just making it really impossible for law enforcement. Two more things. Everybody says there's enough fentanyl to kill 1.4 million people on with this load or, you know, the overdramatic dramatization of it. But what is the reality of the weaponization of fentanyl? And your perspective? I said this all the way back in 2000. So actually, I can't take credit for calling from the Intel guy who was the first one who said that people have been saying it ever since. And this is chemical warfare on a low level scale, and it's been waged very carefully, I guess, so as not to create a huge response from Washington. But is now quite evident as we lose 110,000 People