Governor, law enforcement say growing fentanyl trade threatens ‘Idaho way of life’

by Logan Finney, Idaho Reports

Oregon-Idaho High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area | oridhidta.org

Gov. Brad Little and law enforcement officers this week described growing drug availability as a threat to the region, and pointed to the U.S.-Mexico border as the primary source of those drugs.

Officials spoke in a press conference at the Idaho State Police headquarters in Meridian following a roundtable discussion between Little, ISP leadership, Twin Falls Chief of Police Craig Kingsbury, and Bannock County Sheriff Tony Manu.

Two weeks ago, Little announced he was sending five ISP troopers to Arizona in response to a request from Gov. Doug Ducey and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.

According to the original press release, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, and Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts also responded to the request.

The Idaho officers are acting as a “force multiplier” with the Arizona Department of Public Safety’s drug interdiction efforts along the U.S.-Mexico border.

“We regularly send our troopers to train and to work with counterparts throughout the United States,” said ISP director Col. Kedrick Wills. “This experience along the border goes beyond the typical training we see because it’s a real life barrage of criminal activity that our troopers are seeing down in Arizona.”

“In one case, one of our Idaho troopers was involved in a brief foot pursuit in Arizona where the man was caught with more than 20 fentanyl pills,” Wills said.

Domestic Highway Enforcement coordinator Capt. John Kempf told Idaho Reports that each of the five troopers currently in Arizona are DHE officers from different ISP districts. According to Wills, all five are field training officers and three are Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) certified criminal interdiction trainers.

Kempf said that his district, based in Coeur d’Alene, has seen a recent uptick in both overdose deaths and violent crimes related to fentanyl. 

“Most recently, we had the tragic death of a 15-year-old boy,” said Kempf. “He was one of a cluster of overdose deaths we’ve tied to fentanyl from a pill that’s mocked up to look like a regular Oxycodone pill.”

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Idaho says that counterfeit pills containing fentanyl are sold illegally as Oxycodone, Xanax, Percocet or similar prescription opioids by street dealers and over the internet.

“Unless prescription drugs are obtained from an authorized medical provider or pharmacy, the public should not consume or even handle these pills,” the office warns.

U.S. Attorney’s Office, District of Idaho

Kingsbury said the Twin Falls police department has administered naloxone—a drug that can block the effects of opioids—in overdose situations more than 30 times in the past year, including to a few individuals that have been saved more than once.

“This is the third phase of the opiate crisis,”  said Kempf. “The first phase was, of course, the legitimate pills that were manufactured by some of the large manufacturers in this country. Then, that led to—when the pills went away—that led to the heroin problem.” 

“That was followed up by fentanyl,” Kempf said. “And fentanyl is very cheap, easy to produce, it’s easy to smuggle. It’s very, very potent. Per gram, it is much more potent than black tar heroin. ”

Aside from the drug’s deadly potency, Little said that a lack of quality control also means the risk of other contaminants ending up in illicitly manufactured pills. 

“They’re mixing it up in a bucket and running it through a pill press. That’s why it’s so disastrous when it gets out in the population,” Little said.

Kingsbury said he is hopeful that the techniques ISP troopers are currently learning at the border will be able to help sheriff and police departments stem the flow of narcotics coming into the state.

Manu said that investigations in Bannock County have revealed direct ties between local dealers and sources at the U.S.-Mexico border.  

“Why do people rob banks? That’s where the money is. Why are we doing intervention at the Mexican border? That’s where the vast majority of (drug trafficking) is,” Little said. “It’s such a leaky sieve right now, that’s the place to go.”

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