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US prosecutors charge 195 people with running drug enterprises

By Brendan O'Brien

(Reuters) - U.S. federal prosecutors have charged dozens of people across the nation with taking part in major drug trafficking operations, including a narcotics ring run by a California prison inmate, the U.S. Justice Department said on Friday.

In all, 195 people from 10 states face drug charges in several cases filed this week in federal courts in the East, South and Midwest and Alaska, the department said in a statement.

“These cases represent just a fraction of the work our agents and prosecutors are doing every day to target, disrupt and dismantle the cartels and drug trafficking organizations that are poisoning the American people," Attorney General Merrick Garland said in the statement.

The number of drug overdoses in the United States has soared since the COVID-19 pandemic. A record 106,000 people died of drug overdoses in 2021, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

On Thursday, the U.S Attorney’s Office in Alaska charged 54 people with operating a multi-state fentanyl, meth, heroin and cocaine ring from February 2022 to July 2023. The leader, Heraclio Sanchez-Rodriguez, 57, was accused of running the operation from a California prison.

Sanchez-Rodriguez used cell phones to talk to suppliers in Mexico, ring leaders in California and Oregon and distributors in Alaska, the justice department said.

On Wednesday, 82 people were indicted in the Northern District of West Virginia with trafficking fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 100 times stronger than morphine. Fentanyl deaths in the United States tripled from 2016 through 2021, the CDC said.

The investigation in West Virginia uncovered $1.2 million worth of fentanyl, along with cocaine, methamphetamine, firearms and hundreds of thousands of dollars in assets, the department said.

Some 19 people also were charged in the District of Nebraska on Tuesday with taking part in a meth distribution ring operating in the state and in Kentucky and California.

On the same day, 40 people were arrested in Mississippi, where they face federal drug charges for operating several multistate drug-trafficking organizations, the department of justice said.

(Reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Chicago; Editing by Bill Berkrot)