Federal and Spokane authorities have announced a new public education campaign to announce the growing presence of the deadly drug fentanyl in eastern Washington.
Keith Weis from the Drug Enforcement Administration said on Wednesday that drug cartels are shipping more and more fentanyl made in Mexican labs to the Northwest because it’s easy to make and profitable.
“These laboratories are 24/7, producing these fentanyl pills, as compared to heroin, where you have to grow poppy crops. You have to grow the crops, harvest them, there’s cycles," Weis said.
He says there are no quality control requirements, so the users can’t be sure about what’s in the pills they buy. He says many heroin users appear to be shifting to fentanyl.
“It’s aesthetically a little more pleasing to users. It looks like a prescription pill. It’s not like somebody has to pull out needles and start injecting heroin themselves," he said.
Weis says shipments to the Northwest are often funneled through the Tri-Cities and then distributed from there.
Hyslop says it has become not just a law enforcement issue, but also a public health problem.
“We’ve had cases where an individual has shared pills with a friend and the individual took two pills and had no effect. The friend took one and dropped dead instantly," he said.
Spokane Police Chief Craig Meidl says fentanyl and second-hand exposure to it has also become a health risk for his officers. Recently, he said, two of them were overcome while checking up on a couple in a car.
“The officers didn’t do anything that any of us would have done as well," he said. "They started to feel suppression of their respiratory system, so they had to apply Narcan dosage to each of them as well. Medics, obviously, responded and gave them a couple more applications of Narcan and they were admitted to the ER.”
Mayor Nadine Woodward says firefighters and EMTs are also becoming exposed more often to opioids and the people who use them.
“We know, within the city of Spokane, our fire department has administered Narcan to reverse drug overdoses more than 1,100 times between 2015 and September of this year. We also know than 90% of the crime that’s committed in our city is property crimes and the vast majority of those crimes are committed to fuel a drug habit," Woodward said.
Hyslop says federal and local authorities are pulling together a committee of community leaders and a public awareness campaign. Over the next few months, you’ll see videos and public service announcements about the dangers of fentanyl and efforts taken to stop its spread.
"A law enforcement official that I was discussing this program with recently told me we are not going to arrest out way out of this," Hyslop said.
On a related note, the Drug Enforcement Administration says it will hold a Drug Take-back Day Saturday from 10 am to 2 pm. That’s when you can return unused medications to be disposed of safely. There are about 20 sites participating, including the Boy Scouts of America office at 411 Boy Scout Way in Spokane.