ABINGDON, Va. (WRIC) — A Virginia man pleaded guilty to federal drug charges and was sentenced to three and a half years in prison last week after he ordered 30,000 Fentanyl pills from California and distributed them throughout Southwest Virginia.

Zachary Ryan Hutton, 21, of Smyth County was caught in June 2021 with 561 grams of ‘pressed’ Fentanyl — that is, Fentanyl molded into pills to resemble Oxycodone — that had been mailed to him from a source in California.

According to a sentencing letter submitted by Hutton, he became entangled in trafficking the pills after he became addicted to them himself.

“He began using Oxycodone early last year after he used some provided to him by a friend,” the letter reads. “He became addicted very quickly and began using daily at a progressively greater amount.”

The letter goes on to state that Hutton was approached by a supplier who offered to feed his habit if he began trafficking drugs on their behalf. Hutton’s lawyers claimed that if adequate addiction treatment had been available to him, he wouldn’t have become entangled in drug trafficking.

“It is critical to note that Mr. Hutton has never had any substance abuse treatment or counseling and would
aver that his involvement in the underlying conspiracy was premised upon his need to support his intense and ever-growing addiction,” they wrote.

In a letter of support after Hutton pleaded guilty, his mother, Dawn Stafford, said Hutton was living in fear of the traffickers who had fed his addiction, and who became angry when he began to detox.

“There was a threat to burn down his Mamaw’s house, which is the address the packages were sent to,” she wrote. “There’s no doubt, he was afraid and had no idea how to get out of the situation he was in.”

The prosecution did not request a specific sentence for Hutton, but did motion for a reduced sentence on the basis of “substantial assistance” rendered to law enforcement.

Sentencing guidelines normally recommend a minimum sentence of ten years for the amount of narcotics Hutton possessed and distributed, but prosecutors appeared to acknowledge that Hutton had been caught up in something bigger than him — and tried to make it right.

“I don’t know what the options are but I ask you to be lenient,” his mother wrote. “I’ve prayed many times for you to have a compassionate heart when deciding Zachary’s fate.”

Hutton will also be required to complete a rehabilitation program and pay $50,000 in restitution.