Oregon man arrested for importing opioids after overdose death in Wisconsin

Investigators found 27 grams of smuggled cyclopropyl fentanyl, which has caused several recent overdose deaths in Portland.

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PORTLAND, Ore. — An Oregon man is facing federal drug charges for allegedly importing potent opioids from China. 

Agents intercepted a shipment of Cyclopropyl fentanyl, a derivative of fentanyl, according to a criminal complaint.

Portland police said the package was linked to an overdose death that happened in Green Bay, Wisconsin. 

According to police, 80 people have died in accidental overdoses from synthetic opioids such as fentanyl since 2014. The deaths are increasing, the Oregon State Medical Examiner's Office said. 

Joseph Caruso, 33, was arrested outside his Lake Oswego apartment on Nov. 21 for the sale and distribution of illegal narcotics, according to court records. He is now in federal custody. 

A U.S. postal inspector at the Portland International Airport air cargo facility got suspicious after picking up a yellow padded envelope marked “Knitting Needle.”  The international package had been shipped from Shanghai. 

The inspector said the contents felt like powder, not a knitting needle.

Investigators took the suspicious package to the Portland Police Bureau’s Drug and Vice Division for safe testing using a ventilated hood. Inside two heat-sealed Mylar bags, investigators said they found a plastic baggie filled with off-white powder weighing 27 grams.

The Oregon State Police lab identified the powder as Cyclopropyl fentanyl, according to the criminal complaint.

“Cyclopropyl fentanyl is a very powerful opioid that is ingested in microgram dosages and has been the cause of several recent overdose deaths in Portland, Oregon metropolitan area,” wrote Special Agent Guy Gino of U.S. Homeland Security in a criminal complaint filed in federal court.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Oregon authorized investigators to replace the potent opioid with a harmless powder, then send the package on to the intended recipient in Lake Oswego.

Investigators said they watched Caruso remove the package from his mailbox.  Then, he was placed under arrest.

Caruso has a previous conviction for possession of heroin in August of 2014.

According to court documents, Caruso was identified in a Chinese Ministry Public Security investigation after Chinese officials busted a drug organization sending fentanyl to the United States.  

“Caruso’s [phone] number was associated to a package containing 50g Fentanyl addressed to another individual in the Portland, Oregon on November 1, 2016,” wrote Special Agent Gino.

A search of Caruso’s Lake Oswego address found six imports mailed to Joe Caruso between October 2016 and November 2017, explained investigators. The international packages had descriptions listed on the manifest such as “SAMPLES OF COSMETICS,” “DOLL” and “PRESENT,” said Special Agent Gino.

Investigators said two similar packages sent to a recipient in Michigan tested positive for Furanylfentanyl, an analogue of fentanyl. 

Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid similar to morphine, but is at least 100 times more potent.

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Published Nov. 22, 2017

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