WEISER, Idaho — Overdoses and opioid seizures are at an all-time high in the Gem State, with border communities taking the most brutal hit.
Law enforcement agencies from around southeastern Idaho shared their experiences with members of Gov. Brad Little's 'Operation Esto Perpetua' Citizen Action Group on Wednesday in Weiser.
Many, including Lt. Troy Krahn with the Weiser Police Department, said a significant amount of their department's limited resources go toward patrolling the Idaho-Oregon border.
"Being a small jurisdiction, our budget is a problem," he said. "In Oregon, they're not held to a standard. They've basically decriminalized drugs, so it's hard to deal with."
Hahn said the Weiser community had experienced its share of negative impacts caused by the inflow of opioids, like fentanyl.
"We have had overdoses here, with loss of life," Weiser Police Department's Lt. Troy Krahn said. "We've taken the steps we can do so far, but it's pretty clear that we need help."
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid up to 100 times more potent than morphine — making it highly addictive and deadly.
Operation Esto Perpetua, a state initiative launched by Little earlier this year, aims to help communities combat the rise of fentanyl and meth in Idaho. The plan includes a law enforcement panel and a citizens action group on fentanyl.
The CDC estimates that between October 2020 and October 2021, more than 105,000 Americans died of drug overdoses. According to the CDC, 66% of those deaths were linked to synthetic opioids like fentanyl.
"Buying one of these fentanyl pills off the street has almost double the chances of dying as playing Russian roulette," Little said. "That's the magnitude of this problem."
According to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, 164 Idahoans died from opioid overdose in 2020.
Preliminary DHW data reported that 44% of last year's overdose deaths involved synthetic opioids — like fentanyl. In 2020, only 21% of overdose deaths in Idaho were linked to synthetic opioids. Two years ago, in 2019, it was only 12%, according to DHW.
"I didn't know how big the problem was," Republican Rep. Scott Bedke from Oakley said. "To hear time and time again from every law enforcement group describe the magnitude of this problem is very sobering to me."
While law enforcement is Idaho's first line of defense against the state's fentanyl crisis, Canyon County Sheriff Kieran Donahue said education and awareness are needed moving forward.
"How do we get this message to the kids? To the high schools? To the junior highs? To the community in general?" Donahue said. "Because I can tell you when I'm talking to people, they have no idea what's about to hit them."
Earlier this month, DEA Special Agent in Charge Frank A. Tarentino III told Idaho News 6 that the amount of fentanyl seized in Idaho grew by 400% in 2021.
He added that the DEA is seeing more fentanyl mixed with street drugs like counterfeit pills, cocaine, and heroin — which has caused increased overdose deaths nationally.
Pocatello Police Chief Roger Schei said the rise in fentanyl found by officers in his area is staggering.
"Two years ago, we had zero fentanyl pill cases. Last year, we had 3,000," Schei said. "In this quarter alone, we have seized 10,000 pills. That's from January to now."
State lawmakers approved thousands of dollars in funding to help address drug and fentanyl use this legislative session. The amount aligns with several items in Little's Leading Idaho initiative.
Some projects funded through the allocation, according to Little, are:
- Increasing the number of police troopers
- A new Idaho State Police district facility in Idaho Falls
- A new forensics laboratory
However, officials said Wednesday that more assistance is needed. Specifically, attendees said stricter penalties on drug distributors and manufacturers, a statewide data system to monitor arrest trends and additional funding for small police agencies would be a significant aid.