Police seize 24 pounds of heroin, fentanyl and 'unknown white powder' in Maryland

Police seize 24 pounds of heroin, fentanyl and 'unknown white powder' on I-270 in Maryland (ABC7)

A regular looking semi-truck was hauling enough fentanyl to wipe out the entire District of Columbia, and then some, ABC7 has exclusively learned through law enforcement sources.

It was Monday, July 23, around 2:35 a.m. A Maryland State Police trooper was running speed enforcement along southbound I-270 near Falls Road. The trooper clocked a tractor-trailer with California plates traveling 70 in a 55 mile per hour zone.

During a traffic stop, the trooper sensed the truck driver, Marco Popovich, 41, or San Diego, looked nervous. The trooper radioed for a drug sniffing dog.

The trained K-9 quickly located a black duffle bag inside of the truck's cab. The bag allegedly contained 15.1 pounds of fentanyl and heroin. In the trailer of the truck, the K-9 located 8.4 pounds of an "unknown white powder substance." Sources say the total street value of the seized narcotics is well into the millions.

Breakdown of Illegal Drugs Seized From Tractor Trailer:

4,900 grams of heroin (four bricks)

1,950 grams of fentanyl (one brick)

3,790 grams of powder substance (two bricks)

According to data collected by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), 2.5 milligrams of fentanyl is enough to cause a fatal overdose. In other words, the amount of fentanyl confiscated from the tractor trailer alone could have killed 780,000 people. D.C.'s current population is around 703,000.

“It's an extraordinary risky drug," Doctor Nora Volkow of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) said of fentanyl in particular.

The agency, which is part of the National Institutes of Heath, funds research to determine the "causes and consequences of drug use and addiction." It employs around 350 people at its Rockville offices.

NIDA studies have found that 10 percent of all drug users become addicted on average. However, when that drug use involves heroin or fentanyl, that number jumps to between 30 and 40 percent.

“That is why it will get worse before it gets better,” Dr. Volkow opined.

Heroin has been on the black market for decades. However, synthetic fentanyl is relatively new to the scene. According to the DEA, fentanyl is 40-50 times more powerful than heroin, and 50-100 times more potent than morphine.

Fentanyl is most prevalent in areas like D.C., Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, Ohio, and West Virginia. However, NIDA explains the drug is taking hold nationwide. Making matters worse, certain dealers have started to add fentanyl to cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamine and painkillers like Vicodin. That marketing ploy is generating more addicts, some unaware of precisely what they are ingesting.

In other cases, users develop a tolerance to heroin and upgrade to fentanyl. There have been reports of people seeking out dealers associated with fentanyl overdoses in hopes of securing the greatest high. The pull is that strong.

"Ten years ago we were not very worried about fentanyl. In 2016, there were more than 20,000 [fatal] fentanyl overdoses in the U.S.," Dr. Volkow added.

According to court documents, Popovich is married and has two children. He has owned his trucking company, Popovich Transport, for a little more than a decade. A phone number listed in court paperwork for Popovich has been disconnected.

Popovich is currently being held without bond in Montgomery County. He faces more than 90 years in prison, though he could likely broker a lucrative deal by sharing intel about the hierarchy of the fentanyl/heroin totem pole.

Maryland State Police declined to comment about the ongoing narcotics investigation.

This story has been updated Friday, Aug. 3, 2018

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