Police officers searching the wooden lathe

Fentanyl Warning Following Australia’s Largest Detection of the Deadly Opioid

The AFP has seized the largest shipment ever detected in Australia of the deadly opioid fentanyl, stopping more than five million potentially lethal doses of the drug hitting the streets, following a joint operation with the Australian Border Force (ABF).

More than 11kg of pure powdered fentanyl and 30kg of methamphetamine were hidden inside in an industrial wooden lathe sent from Canada that arrived at the Port of Melbourne in December, 2021.

The AFP, ABF and the Department of Home Affairs have established a joint operation to identify those responsible for importing the fentanyl – due to the seriousness this criminality poses to the Australian community.

The AFP is seeking information from anyone with knowledge of the attempted importation and is warning the public about the dangers of the drug, which can be fatal from a dose of just 28mg – or about the same weight as two grains of salt.

Fentanyl is a fast-acting opioid that is highly addictive and acts on the same receptors in the body as heroin.

The drug is primarily used for medical purposes in Australia, but in overseas illicit drug markets it is has been cut with heroin, often with fatal consequences.

Australian authorities have only ever detected illicit fentanyl importations in minor amounts – all less than 30g – with the first case in 2017.

The investigation into the importation began after ABF officers inspected a container in Melbourne on 3 February, 2022.

The officers detected nearly 60kg of powdered substances hidden inside military-style ammunition boxes concealed within a three tonne lathe.

AFP forensic officers initiated a two-week operation to safely remove and analyse the powder.

The operation to safely remove the drugs from the machinery involved multiple state and Commonwealth agencies including ABF and Ambulance Victoria, which was on standby during the extraction and deconstruction phase of the operation.

Forensic officers wore protective bio hazard suits during the delicate and complex task of removing the powder from the lathe to protect against any inadvertent skin contact with the drug, which could cause harm, loss of consciousness and even death. 

About 27kg of the powder contained fentanyl, yielding 11.2kg of pure fentanyl, equivalent to about 5.5 million potential lethal doses of 30mg. Forensic officers also removed about 30kg of methamphetamine, with an estimated street value of $27 million.

Fentanyl sold illegally in Australia usually occurs in the form of patches used for medical treatment, which have been stolen or diverted from legitimate medical supplies. There is no precedent to place a street value on a large, bulk amount of the drug.

AFP acting Commander Anthony Hall said it was known criminal syndicates across the world were lacing illicit drugs such as heroin with this synthetic opioid, creating a dangerous cocktail of substances.