- Associated Press - Thursday, October 27, 2016

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Five more people are facing federal drug charges in a fentanyl overdose outbreak that killed two people in Tennessee over 24 hours this summer, U.S. Attorney David Rivera announced Thursday.

The nine-count grand jury indictment in U.S. District Court in Nashville continues a law enforcement push to combat the proliferation of fentanyl. The powerful painkiller can be 40 times more potent than heroin and has caused concentrated spurts of overdoses in several states. The drug is sometimes laced into pills or heroin.

The drug distribution conspiracy charges center on a 24-hour period in July when two people died and more were hospitalized around Murfreesboro from overdosing on fentanyl-laced pills, which were made to resemble Percocet.

“This is clearly an epidemic,” said Christopher Tersigni, Drug Enforcement Agency assistant special agent in charge. “It’s not probably going away any time in the near future. This is something that is going to plague our state. It’ll probably get worse before it gets better. But we all, here, stand committed to tackle this problem.”

Those charged include: Jonathan Barrett, 29, of Murfreesboro; Eric Falkowski, 34, of Kissimmee, Florida; Davi Valles Jr., 25, of Nashville; Johnny Williams, 30, of Murfreesboro; and Jason Moss, 26, of Murfreesboro.

They face 20 years to life in prison if convicted, and up to $1 million in fines for each of the nine counts.

The indictment says Falkowski moved part of his pill producing operation to Tennessee after law enforcement seized equipment from his Florida home.

Two other people were previously charged in the outbreak. One has pleaded guilty. Six of the seven are in custody, while Moss is a fugitive at-large, the U.S. attorney’s office said.

This week in New Hampshire, a federal prosecutor handed down indictments for 25 people on heroin and fentanyl trafficking charges.

There were a dozen overdoses, including one death, in Mount Sterling, Kentucky over two days in August. Two men were indicted on heroin and fentanyl distribution charges in connection to the outbreak.

And an Ohio man was charged with heroin distribution connected to 28 overdoses, including two deaths, in a five-hour span in Huntington, West Virginia in August. Officials believe that batch was also laced with fentanyl.

Over just a few weeks this summer, hundreds of overdoses were reported in the Cincinnati area, with some of the drugs laced with carfentanil, an elephant tranquilizer 100 times stronger than fentanyl.

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