by Will Racke
Two illegal aliens have been indicted on multiple counts of conspiracy and drug distribution for allegedly running a drug trafficking operation that led to the overdose deaths of at least two people in Tennessee, federal prosecutors announced Thursday.
Juan Manuel Morales-Rodriguez, 39, and Juan Samudio-Castro — both Mexican nationals — directed a heroin and fentanyl delivery service in Williamson County, Tenn., according to the nine-count indictment returned Wednesday.
Along with two U.S. citizen partners, the men allegedly delivered the potent opioids up and down the I-65 corridor, just south of Nashville. In March, at least two people in nearby Maury County, Tenn. died as a result of overdosing on the heroin and fentanyl they purchased from the operation, according to the indictment.
Samudio-Castro and Morales-Rodriguez are both in the U.S. unlawfully. Morales-Rodriguez was previously deported and has also been charged with with aggravated illegal reentry.
Don Cochran, U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee, described the case as a result of “unchecked” illegal immigration and drug trafficking across the southwest border.
“This is yet another tragic example of the consequences of a long unchecked immigration system and the ease in which these illegal drugs enter our country,” Cochran said in a statement on Thursday.
Although Mexico-based drug trafficking into the eastern half of the U.S. has historically focused on cocaine and marijuana, Mexican cartels have in recent years ramped up their distribution of heroin and the ultra-potent fentanyl. Today, more than 90 percent of the heroin consumed in the U.S. can be sourced to Mexico, according to DEA estimates. Mexican cartels have also boosted their capacity to produce fentanyl, which is highly profitable and easily smuggled across the border in small quantities.
The explosion of poppy cultivation in Mexico has fueled historic violence there, and a wave of overdose deaths across America. Mexcio recorded more than 29,000 murders in 2017, the highest annual death toll since the government began keeping records.
The year before, more than 40,000 people in the U.S. died from opioid overdoses, the highest number ever, according to the Centers for Disease Control. About 60 percent of those deaths were attributed to heroin or fentanyl, while the other 40 percent involved prescription opiods.
Tennessee has been hit particularly hard by the opioid epidemic. In 2016, its rate of 18.1 overdose deaths per 100,000 persons was much higher than the national rate of 13.3.
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Will Racke is a reporter at Daily Caller News Foundation. Follow Will on Twitter.