Fentanyl is a powerful opioid that is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphineand 30 to 50 times more potent than heroin, and a dose as small as a quarter of a milligramcan be fatal.
New Jersey authorities said that the 45 kilos of fentanyl, seized in June 2017, contained more than 18 million lethal doses. It was the largest seizure ever in the state.
"The 100 pounds of fentanyl trafficked into our state by these drug dealers could have generated enough lethal doses to kill the entire populations of New Jersey and New York City combined," New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said in a statement.
"Because dealers use this super-potent opioid to boost heroin and create counterfeit oxy pills, drug users are left to play a deadly game of Russian roulette each time they give way to their addiction."
Jesus Carrillo-Pineda, 31, of Philadelphia, was sentenced Friday to 10 years in prison on charges of possession of heroin and fentanyl with intent to distribute. Daniel Vasquez, 28, of Somerton, Arizona, was sentenced Friday to six years in prison for a similar charge.
Acting on a tip, police said they arrested the pair in a North Bergen parking lot last June after witnessing the fentanyl being transferred from a tractor trailer occupied by Vasquez to the trunk of a Mercedes driven by Carrillo-Pineda.
The two men pleaded guilty last month.
According to the most recent data available, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than 20,000 of the 64,000 overdose deaths in 2016 were attributed to synthetic opioids, including fentanyl.
Fentanyl can be legally prescribed by doctors for pain management, but most of the drug found on the street is manufactured illicitly. Officials believe this fentanyl was illegally manufactured, according to Peter Aseltine, Public Information Officer at the New Jersey Attorney General's Office.
In New Jersey, law enforcement officials said there were more than 800 overdose deaths from fentanyl in 2016 -- up from 417 the year before.
"The 45 kilos of fentanyl seized last year in this investigation brought home the scope of the problem we face in New Jersey with this highly lethal opioid," Elie Honig, director of the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice, said in a statement.
"Three years ago, fentanyl was found in only about 2 percent of the heroin tested by the State Police; by late last year, it was found in nearly one-third of the heroin tested," Honig said.
Before he left office this month, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie fought the opioid crisis in New Jersey and beyond as a member of President Donald Trump's commission on opioid abuse.
"This is so awful," Christie said in an October interview on CNN's "New Day." "We consume 85% of all the opioids in the world in this country. We are the most medicated country in the world, and it's unnecessary."