Rise in fentanyl could overwhelm Idaho LEOs, governor says

1,900 Idahoans died of overdose-related deaths in the first year of the pandemic, compared to 264 deaths in 2019


By Hannah Ashton
The Times-News, Twin Falls, Idaho

JEROME, Idaho — Idaho is seeing an increase in fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is up to 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

"The magnitude of this problem is almost unbelievable," said Gov. Brad Little.

In the last six to eight months, the problem has gotten dramatically worse, he said during a press conference Monday afternoon at Idaho State Police District 4 headquarters in Jerome.

The methamphetamine and fentanyl found in Idaho have a direct tie to Mexico, Gov. Little said. To combat the problem, he sent five ISP troopers on a 21-day mission in July to assist the Arizona Department of Public Safety. The officers helped make arrests and learned new detection techniques.

"We also saw the use of new technology, again the details are law enforcement sensitive, however, it provided examples of how new technology is being used to intercept drug traffickers," said ISP Sgt. Curt Sproat who was part of the team sent to the border.

Sproat has been with ISP for 10 years and said fentanyl is one of the most dangerous drugs he has seen in his career.

One in three fentanyl pills coming into the U.S. has a deadly dose, Gov. Little said. Drug cartels make counterfeit pills look identical to drugs sold by pharmaceutical companies.

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In 2019, Idaho had 264 drug-overdose-related deaths according to the Idaho Office of Drug Policy. In comparison, more than 1,900 Idahoans died during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gov. Little said the pandemic was addressed in the list of 10 policy recommendations that a group of Republican governors sent to President Joe Biden on Oct. 6, 2021, to address the situation at the border.

Titled "Joint Policy Framework on the Border Crisis" the first recommendation calls for continued Title 42 public health restrictions. Title 42 is a public health order from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that prohibits entry into the U.S. when the CDC director believes there is the potential for the introduction of a disease into the country.

"We were told that there is rumors and pretty good evidence that there is 20,000 Peruvians on their way and Peru has the highest incidence of COVID anywhere in the world," Gov. Little said.

On Monday, Peru was listed as 21st in terms of total COVID-19 cases, according to data from CNN. Peru is currently 6th in terms of total COVID-19 deaths.

"In July, more than 18% of migrant families and 20% of unaccompanied minors tested positive for COVID-19 upon being released from Border Patrol custody," says the recommendation list sent to President Biden.

The 26 governors who wrote the list also included resuming deportation of all criminals, end catch and release, deploy more federal law enforcement officers and send a clear message to potential immigrants.

Gov. Little said drug cartels are highly organized and use families to distract border patrol and help drug traffickers enter the U.S.

"This is not innocent people saying 'I would like to go to America to get a job or see my family,'" he said. "They are using them basically as a distraction to do their other nefarious things."

Once the drugs make it to Idaho, the results can be deadly. During eight days in August, Kootenai County in North Idaho had five unrelated overdose deaths, Sproat said.

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Two high school students split one pill of fentanyl. One of the students died and the other survived, he said.

Tackling the drug problem in Idaho will require a multiprong approach that includes education and outreach.

"We are trying to address it from the supply side, from the demand side and from the information side and of course the other side is treatment," Gov. Little said.

Individuals struggling with drug addiction can contact the Idaho Substance Use Disorder Services program at 800-922-3406 for a confidential screening to determine eligibility for state services.

(c)2021 The Times-News (Twin Falls, Idaho)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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