Federal authorities have arrested a woman who they say was trafficking the powerful opiate fentanyl into Sacramento County, where earlier this year officials linked 14 overdose deaths to the drug.
Mildred Dossman, 50, of Sacramento was arrested Tuesday after a grand jury returned a three-count indictment charging her with possession with intent to distribute hydrocodone and fentanyl, distribution of both drugs and using a cellphone to facilitate a drug trafficking offense, federal prosecutors said in a statement.
Prosecutors would not reveal details of Dossman's crimes, arguing in a court document that they would compromise a "covert investigation." However, they allege that Dossman trafficked the drugs between June 2015 and March 2016.
She faces up to 20 years in prison and a $1-million fine if convicted on all charges.
Dossman's arrest comes not long after a wave of fentanyl-related overdoses and deaths in Sacramento County and the surrounding area.
From March to April, 12 people died among 52 overdoses related to fentanyl in Sacramento County, county health officials said. Two more died in neighboring Yolo County.
Fentanyl is an opiate used on patients after surgery that is up to 100 times stronger than morphine.
Deadly in small doses, drug dealers and producers are using the opiate to either spike doses of heroin for greater potency at a cheaper cost or as a counterfeit for other drugs such as Norco, according to Sacramento County health officials.
Fentanyl adds a new wrinkle in the drug trade, experts say. Approximately 700 people died from fentanyl and its analogs nationwide between late 2013 and late 2014, according to a recent report from the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Past investigations have revealed that Mexican cartels are purchasing fentanyl produced in China then using traditional trafficking routes to bring it into the United States. In 2014, DEA officers seized 26 pounds of fentanyl in a stash house in Los Angeles.
A few grains of the odorless white powder, often called "China white" or "Apache," can be enough to kill. Authorities handling the drug have said they wear one or two layers of gloves so it does not seep through their skin into their bloodstream.
Prescribed to cancer patients for decades, fentanyl is the most powerful painkiller available for medical treatment. It's typically administered as a lozenge, patch or injection to patients with severe pain.
For breaking California news, follow @JosephSerna on Twitter.