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Drug Enforcement Administration targeting fentanyl in Spokane

nadine woodward dea web.jpg
Rebecca White
Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward addresses a crowd of local leaders and law enforcement officers at the launch of a new DEA fentanyl initiative in Spokane.

The federal Drug Enforcement Agency is launching a new initiative targeting fentanyl in Spokane. Eastern Washington has seen a massive increase in fentanyl overdoses and drugs seizures over the last several years.

The Spokane area and I-90 corridor has become a hub for fentanyl distribution, says Frank Tarentino, special agent at the DEA’s Seattle Field Division. He says Washington State Department of Health records show fentanyl overdoses increased by 186% from 2020 to 2021, and agency records show seizures of the drug increased 1,098%.

Most of the drugs seized were counterfeit prescription pills made to look like painkillers. Fentanyl is much more potent then heroin or prescription opioids, and many drug users don’t realize they’re taking a lethal dose.

“This is a clear and present danger to our public health, and our public safety,” he said, “These predatory drug trafficking networks are flooding our city streets with these counterfeit prescription pills laced with fentanyl, which is driving the opioid epidemic.”

Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward says Spokane firefighters, and some police officers, have seen the drug out in the field frequently. She says they are using an opioid overdose reversal drug – commonly known as Narcan - daily.

The new initiative, also known as Operation Engage Spokane, will be a collaboration between the Eastern District United State’s Attorney’s Office, the city of Spokane, local law enforcement agencies and the Rayce Rudeen Foundation.

Tarentino says the DEA is focusing on enforcement and educating the public, and hopes to involve local organizations and police to address public health concerns that arise from an increased supply of fentanyl in the community.

Spokane Police Chief Craig Meidl says the region’s new regional crisis stabilization center – a detox and behavioral health site that is an alternative getting booked into jail -- could help in addressing the fentanyl crisis, Meidl says those arrested with illicit drugs on them can be referred there and eventually to treatment.