Salem man charged with possessing fentanyl, heroin to sell

Police seized thousands of fake Oxycodone pills and two pounds of fentanyl and heroin from a Salem man who is now facing federal drug trafficking charges, according to court documents.

Federal prosecutors charged Jesus Leyva Valenzuela, 26, in Portland U.S. District Court on Friday, Jan. 27, with possession of fentanyl and heroin with intent to distribute.

In July 2022, the Salem Police Department executed federal search warrants for Leyva Valenzuela’s Salem home and car as part of a narcotics investigation, according to an affidavit from Sgt. Vincent Dawson.

After another defendant cooperated with police to conduct “a series of controlled drug buys” from Leyva Valenzuela, the department had probable cause that he was selling counterfeit prescription pills manufactured with fentanyl, Dawson wrote in his affidavit.

Leyva Valenzuela was driving his Kia Rio around 3:30 p.m. on July 11, 2022, when Salem police pulled him over. He was the only person in the car.

Officers found around 211 grams of powdered fentanyl, around 2,600 counterfeit M30 prescription pills manufactured with fentanyl – weighing about 264 grams – and about 104 grams of heroin when they searched Leyva Valenzuela’s car, the affidavit said.

Inside a black locked safe in the bedroom of his Salem home, they found about 256 grams of powdered fentanyl, around 7,100 counterfeit M30 prescription pills manufactured with fentanyl – weighing about 714 grams – and 367 grams of heroin.

Field tests on the heroin and powdered fentanyl showed “a presumptive positive result for the presence of the suspected controlled substances,” the affidavit said.

As of Tuesday morning, Leyva Valenzuela was being held without bail on a U.S. Marshals Service hold at the Columbia County Jail in St. Helens, the jail’s roster showed.

Heroin is typically used in quantities of about one-tenth of a gram, according to the affidavit. That means the 471 grams police seized would amount to 4,710 doses of heroin. A user amount of a counterfeit M30 pill is often one pill. 

The counterfeit pills often have a different shade of blue or are sometimes manufactured in different colors. The edges of the pills and their stamps are often rough, and lack the precision of a real prescription. Some counterfeit pills will crumble easily under pressure, Dawson wrote in the affidavit.

The detective said drug traffickers are increasingly selling counterfeit prescription pills that are stamped with an “M” and “30” to replicate real 30-milligram Oxycodone hydrochloride pills, but are manufactured with fentanyl “as the active ingredient.”

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid developed to treat severe pain and is often given to cancer patients. But it can be deadly when taken illicitly, particularly when users aren’t aware it’s been mixed into the drug they’re taking. 

Fentanyl is up to 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine. The estimated lethal dose of fentanyl is about 2 milligrams, Dawson wrote in his affidavit.

In 2021, over 71,200 Americans died from overdoses caused by synthetic opioids, primarily fentanyl. That is a 23% increase from 2020, when there were around 57,800, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Contact reporter Ardeshir Tabrizian: [email protected] or 503-929-3053.

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Ardeshir Tabrizian has covered criminal justice and housing for Salem Reporter since September 2021. As an Oregon native, his award-winning watchdog journalism has traversed the state. He has done reporting for The Oregonian, Eugene Weekly and Malheur Enterprise.