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Fentanyl dealers increasingly facing homicide charges over overdose deaths

As the fentanyl crisis continues across the country, a new task force in Los Angeles is holding dealers accountable —not for selling drugs, but for murder.

As Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Lieutenant Bobby Dean explains, fentanyl provides an “extremely potent high, it is dirt cheap and it is incredibly easy to get.”

He also warned, “It’s a hundred times more powerful than morphine. And it will kill you in an instant if you get a bad batch.”

Dean leads the task force that investigates fentanyl deaths in Los Angeles County with the aim of bringing charges against dealers. 

“They are absolutely approached like a homicide,” he told CBS News. “It is a death investigation.”

In Los Angeles County, the sheriff’s department investigates hundreds of fentanyl deaths a year. Sheriff Robert Luna said the goal is to have dealers face homicide charges, a growing strategy nationwide.

“What is the difference between somebody who stabs you or shoots you or is selling you pills that highly likely will kill you?” Luna said.

In 2023, sheriff’s deputies in LA County seized more than 3,000,000 fentanyl pills — 300,000 more than in 2022.

In an undercover street buy, deputies brought back a baggie with about 10 pills disguised as prescription pain medication inside. It cost $80, and the deputies say the bag contained enough fentanyl to kill up to 20 people.

One of the task force’s cases is the death of Jax Markley, who died of fentanyl poisoning in 2022 at the age of 18.

Jax’s mother, Daisy Markley, told CBS News she found her child “slumped over on the bed” in his room. 

“I just screamed for my husband,” she said.

Asked if he wanted to find the people who provided drugs to his son, Matt Markley told CBS News, “I wanted nothing less than to burn this person’s world down.”

“They know damn well how deadly these things are,” he added.

Detectives arrested the person who allegedly gave Jax Markley the fatal fentanyl. She’s awaiting trial in federal court.

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