Tarrant County district attorney staffs narcotics unit to pursue fentanyl sales cases

In the nearly three months that state law has made a person who sells fentanyl to someone who dies from exposure to the drug eligible for murder prosecution, such a case has not been filed in Tarrant County.

But the county’s chief law enforcement officer has shifted staffing in his office in a signal that pursuit of synthetic opioid dealing cases is among its priorities.

Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney Phil Sorrells on Monday announced the creation of a new unit to focus on cases that involve narcotics, including fentanyl.

Three prosecutors have been assigned to the narcotics unit.

Juries or a judge considering punishment of defendants convicted of murder are in most cases required to select a sentence of between five and 99 years in prison or life.

Fentanyl sales cases are regularly filed in U.S. District Court by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Texas.

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“If you deal fentanyl in Tarrant County, we are coming after you,” Sorrells wrote in the announcement. “Fentanyl is addictive and deadly.”

Because fentanyl is cheaper to manufacture than other opioids, some dealers substitute it for other substances, according to Sorrells’ announcement. It is available as powder, pills and liquid.

About 300 people have died from overdoses this year, according to Tarrant County Medical Examiner Office data the district attorney noted in the announcement. The data include deaths from fentanyl and other substances and some of the deaths may have occurred outside Tarrant County.

“We are going to get the people who sell this poison off the streets,” Sorrells wrote.