FOX 35 INVESTIGATES: Central Florida sheriffs blame Mexican cartels for fentanyl surge

Fentanyl is flowing into communities across Central Florida and some local sheriffs are blaming the Mexican Cartel.

Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods says his deputies found a block of the synthetic opioid recently with a stamp on it.

"There was a sombrero and then it had the word ‘Mexico’ on it," Woods said.

Over in Flagler County, there was another big bust where nearly a kilo of fentanyl was discovered after deputies raided a home.  Investigators suspect the drugs also came from a Mexican cartel.

"The border is coming to every town in America," said Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly.  

Staly says the fentanyl his department found was enough to kill nearly half a million people. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine.

"I think the cartels have been here for a long time. I think it’s now easier to get their product in the country. I went to the border in the middle of July and saw it first hand," he explained.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection data shows 10,469 pounds of fentanyl has been seized so far this year. In all of 2020, that number was 4,791.

"Yes, the U.S.-Mexican border…we do recognize there’s a significant flow of synthetic opioids and other drugs coming through that route," said Justin Miller.

DEA Intelligence Chief in the Miami field division. The DEA says the drug is also being delivered by air, boat, and even in the mail. Once it hits the United States, it’s distributed across the country – including to central Florida.

"The Mexican drug cartels are very good at adapting to law enforcement pressure. They’re constantly changing smuggling techniques," Miller explained.

The cartels aren’t just making powdered fentanyl. They’re also disguising the drug in pills. The DEA says the number of counterfeit pills with fentanyl inside has jumped nearly 430 percent since 2019. The buyers have no idea what they’re getting.

"They’re looking to create a market for these drugs," Miller told FOX 35 News.

He says fentanyl is cheap to make and it’s in high demand.

"It just goes to show that the desire is in every community in America," Sheriff Staly said.

So how do police stop these potent drugs from flowing into your neighborhood? 

"It feels like I’m trying to shoot a buffalo with a bb gun," said Sheriff Woods.

Local law enforcement says they have to build these cases from the bottom up and partner with other agencies. These international criminals don’t stop at borders, state, or county lines.

Watch FOX 35 Orlando for the latest Central Florida news.