Finding Hope


Treasure Valley officials warn of massive increase in prevalence of fentanyl

The potent synthetic opioid is often fatal
Posted at 11:11 AM, Sep 06, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-06 14:41:07-04

BOISE, Idaho — A skyrocketing amount of deadly opioids is being seized off Treasure Valley streets. Fentanyl use is on the rise, often sold on the streets disguised as other prescription medications.

In 2020, law enforcement in the Treasure Valley seized 2,000 counterfeit pills containing fentanyl. In just the first six months of 2021, a local DEA official tells us that number skyrocketed to 50,000.

This summer, Governor Brad Little joined law enforcement officials from around the state to discuss the growing concern, even sending five ISP troopers to Arizona to aid in securing the U.S.-Mexico border.

"Fentanyl is truly taking over our state with some really negative consequences," Twin Falls Police Chief Craig Kingsbury said.

The synthetic opioid is up to 100 times more potent than morphine.

RELATED: Counterfeit prescription pills laced with deadly doses of fentanyl making way into US, DEA warns

"Fentanyl is very cheap, easy to produce, easy to smuggle,"Coeur D'Alene ISP District Commander Capt. John Kempf said. "It's very, very potent per gram. It is much more potent than black tar heroin is or was."

More potent means more paramedics responding to overdose calls. In Ada County, training captain Steve Cole says it's common to see a surge of overdoses as the valley receives a new drug supply.

"We then arrive and see that it's an opioid overdose; we see an increase in cardiac arrest calls and an increase in unconscious man down calls; those are the two most common increases we see whenever there's a new surge," Cole explained.

Where is it coming from?

During the governor's press briefing in July, officials said it's clear the source of the problem starts at the southern border.

"Of the drug trafficking organizations investigated last year, 96% identified Mexico as the source country for drugs trafficked into the region."
- Governor Brad Little

"Whatever goes through that border comes right here into Boise and to Nampa and to Caldwell, Wilder, you name it," Canyon County Sheriff Kieran Donahue said.

RELATED: DEA launches initiative to disrupt fentanyl supply chain, targeting Sinaloa cartel

Sheriff Donahue says the drug problem even impacts jail operations. He's pushing to install an x-ray body scanner at the facility to cut back on the contraband being smuggled inside.

"It's terrifyingly sad," Donahue said. "In fact, I don't know that you could go over there and find an inmate that doesn't have an addiction problem; Cocaine, meth, heroin, oxy."

New data from the CDC shows drug overdoses killed a record number of Americans in 2020, jumping by nearly 30%.

On top of stressors related to the pandemic, experts say those deaths are largely a result of the prevalence of fentanyl.

Captain Cole says Ada County Paramedics have seen more than ten overdose calls in a single day, most often caused by fentanyl disguised as another prescription medication.

"So pills that are being sold on the street as Oxycontin or something else that are actually counterfeit and have fentanyl instead of another drug in them," Cole explained.

The DEA says more than one in four pills containing fentanyl in 2019 was considered a lethal dose and they suspect that number is now much higher.

First responders treat patients with Narcan, a nasal spray that can help counteract the affects of an opioid overdose.

In just the first seven months of this year, Ada County Paramedics administered Narcan 177 times compared to a total 211 times in all of 2020. That's roughly a 44% increase.

And if you think this problem doesn't exist in your neighborhood, think again.

"Opioid addiction, just like in the rest of the country, is very prevalent in all parts of our county," Cole said. "Whether it's in Meridian, Eagle, or downtown Boise, or even in the rural parts of the county, it's an issue."

As important as Narcan is during an opioid overdose, Captain Cole says it's even more important for bystanders to start CPR while waiting for paramedics.

As we've previously reported, Idaho legislators passed a law in 2018 that offers legal protection to Idahoans who call 911 during a drug overdose, hoping it will encourage those fearful of an arrest to pick up the phone and call for help.