Australian Federal Police say they’ve seized more than 5 million doses of fentanyl, the largest shipment of the opioid the country has ever seen.
Police said the drugs were hidden in an industrial machine, known as a lathe, that arrived at the Port of Melbourne in December 2021 from Canada.
But they didn’t launch an investigation until February, when Australian Border Force officials found the drug stash, which included 11.2 kilograms of pure fentanyl and 30 kilograms of methamphetamine.
Fentanyl is a highly addictive painkiller 50–100 times more potent than morphine.
“It is highly unusual to find this drug in Australia outside from its use for medical purposes,” AFP acting Commander Anthony Hall said during a press conference Monday. “The seizure of 11 kg is cause for serious concern to the Australian community.”
Previously, Australian authorities have only detected small shipments—30 grams or less—of fentanyl illegally imported into the country, according to an AFP press release.
In Monday’s press conference, ABF Commander James Watson emphasized the significance of the bust given the amount of fentanyl discovered.
“Typically, we would only see fentanyl being detected in quantities of 1 g or less, so to have a detection that is 11 kg pure, is just quite frankly extraordinary,” Watson said. “I’d describe it as a total act of bastardy.”
While fentanyl is primarily used for medical purposes in Australia, elsewhere it is often mixed with other drugs such as heroin with sometimes deadly consequences. In the United States, the growing prevalence of fentanyl has contributed to an increase in fatal overdoses.
When asked why the announcement was made now, months after the drugs were initially seized and identified, Hall said one of the main purposes was “to alert the community to the harms of what fentanyl poses.”
Authorities also want people who may have information about the source of the fentanyl to come forward.
“There is someone out there in the community who does know more so we are appealing to that person or persons who are there to speak up and call crime stoppers please,” Hall said.
Hall suggested organized crime was to blame for the large shipment of the drug but clarified that no arrests have been made. A joint investigation conducted by the AFP, ABF and Australia’s Department of Home Affairs is ongoing.