Opioid takedown in West Virginia and Michigan leads to dozens arrested

iStock/Thinkstock(HUNTINGTON, W.V.) — More than a dozen people, including two major distributors, were arrested in a major crackdown on the opioid drug trade Tuesday in West Virginia and Michigan involving hundreds of federal, state and local law enforcement officers, officials said.

Officials targeted almost 100 people for arrest and said they believe that the takedown, dubbed Operation Saigon Sunset, will dismantle what is known as the Peterson Drug Trafficking Organization, a heroin and fentanyl distribution network based out of Huntington, W.Va., and Detroit, Mich.

“Our great country has never seen drug deaths like we’re seeing today,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement. “Today’s charges against at least 90 defendants will help make the people of West Virginia and Michigan safer from the threat of dangerous drugs – and they bring us one step closer to ending the opioid epidemic.”

Investigators said they discovered that the Peterson organization had been in operation for almost 15 years, trafficking large quantities of heroin, fentanyl and cocaine from suppliers in Detroit to street dealers in Huntington. Leader Willie Peterson was arrested in Detroit, while his brother, Manget Peterson, was arrested in Huntington, officials said.

The other suspects targeted for arrest, which include Peterson associates and others operating within its distribution network in West Virginia and Michigan, face a myriad of narcotics, violent crime and weapons charges at the state and federal level.

Officials estimated that the amount of suspected fentanyl seized in the investigation prior to Tuesday’s operation, about 450 grams, could have killed more than 250,000 people. Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid sometimes mixed with cocaine or heroin for illicit use, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Operation Saigon Sunset, part of a broader U.S. government opioid enforcement initiative, comes as West Virginia continues to lead the U.S. in the rate of deaths due to drug overdose: 52 out of every 100,000, according to the most recent publicly-available data from the CDC. In Nebraska, the state with the lowest rate, about six people out of every 100,000 die from drug overdoses.

Mike Stuart, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Virginia, said Tuesday’s action is a sign that the U.S. government’s efforts against the opioid epidemic are working.

“Today is a turning point for the City of Huntington and in the war against the opiate nightmare,” he said. “We still have to do but the days of havoc, chaos and misery caused by the peddlers of illicit poisons are soon to be over.”

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