Feb. 16 (UPI) — A 22-year-old man accused of being a “top source” of fentanyl connected to teenage overdoses in Carrollton, Texas, made his initial court appearance Wednesday, becoming the third person charged in the drug case, prosecutors said.
Jason Xavier Villanueva appeared in a Texas court Wednesday afternoon, a day after he was arrested. He has been charged with conspiracy to distribute a Schedule II controlled substance, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas Leigha Simonton said in a statement.
Federal prosecutors accuse Villanueva of working through juvenile drug dealers to supply Luis Eduardo Navarrete, 21, and Magaly Mejia Cano, 29, with fentanyl-laced pills who then sold the drugs to teenagers to peddle them to friends and classmates throughout Carrollton, a city of some 133,000 people located northwest of Dallas.
Navarrete and Cano were arrested Feb. 3 and made their initial court appearance three days later on charges of conspiracy to distribute fentanyl.
The arrests were made following an investigation into the source behind nine teenagers in the Carrollton-Farmers Branch Independent School District experiencing overdoses.
The victims were between the ages of 13 and 17. Authorities said three of them died while a fourth victim, identified as a 14-year-old girl, overdosed twice and suffered temporary paralysis.
Prosecutors said the victims called the pills “percs,” “yerks,” blues” or “M-30s.”
Court documents accuse all three defendants of trafficking pills — mostly blue pills donning an “M-30 inscription” — to juvenile dealers in the city.
Three of the surviving overdose victims named two juvenile dealers they bought the drugs from, prosecutors said, with evidence in court documents showing the dealers corresponded with Villanueva about buying drugs via social media. One of them even told law enforcement that Villanueva had supplied them with the narcotics.
Navarrete also told law enforcement that he obtained his drugs from Villanueva, prosecutors said.
If convicted, each of the defendants could face a maximum of 20 years’ imprisonment.
“Fentanyl is killing our kids. We are angry about it. We are beartbroken about it. And we are determined to do all we can about it,” Simonton said during a Wednesday afternoon press conference. “Make no mistake: Unless it comes from a licensed medical provider, that pill your child thinks is Percocet or, OxyCOntin, or Xanax, or Adderall, may actually be fentanyl — and if it is fentanyl, chance are, even a small part of one pill may be deadly.”
In the complaint against Navarrete and Cano, the couple were accused of selling counterfeit Percocet and Oxycontin pills to multiple juvenile drug dealers who were mostly students at RL Turner High School. Those students are said to have sold the drugs to fellow schoolmates and to younger students at Dewitt Perry and Dan F. Long Middle Schools.
In response to the overdoses, the Carrollton-Farmers Branch Independent School District has been warning parents about the risks of fentanyl and earlier this month held an information meeting presented by local police.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, is up to 100 times more potent than morphine, and has been a driving force behind the ongoing opioid epidemic plaguing the United States.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that drug-involved overdose deaths rose from 2019 to 2021 with 70,601 of the 106,000 overdoes deaths reported in 2021 involving synthetic opioids, though primarily fentanyl.