Families and communities across Montana are being devastated by illicit fentanyl—a drug so powerful that just two milligrams, the amount that would fit on the tip of a pencil, is considered a potentially fatal dose.
This highly addictive drug usually comes in the form of fake prescription opioid pills. Fentanyl powder can also be mixed with methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin. Many Americans don’t know they’re taking counterfeit pills spiked with fentanyl.
But the danger is all too real.
Fentanyl is 100 times more potent than morphine and 50 times more potent than heroin. Most of the fentanyl flooding our country and appearing in Montana is being manufactured in clandestine labs by Mexico’s violent Sinaloa and Jalisco cartels with chemicals from suppliers in China.
Recently, the Drug Enforcement Administration updated a public safety alert after testing found that more than half of fentanyl-laced fake prescription pills – six out of 10 pills — being trafficked in communities nationwide contain a potentially lethal dose of fentanyl. The DEA further notes that fentanyl is now involved in more deaths of Americans under age 50 than any other cause of death, including heart disease, cancer, homicide, suicide and otheraccidents. An estimated 196 Americans die every day from fentanyl poisoning.
Montana, like every state in the nation, is in an urgent battle to save lives and to stop the widespread trafficking of fentanyl. And we are making progress.
Our federal fentanyl prosecutions have significantly increased over the past few years and, I anticipate, they’ll continue to grow. While methamphetamine remains Montana’s primary drug problem, we are seeing traffickers pushing both meth and fentanyl in significant quantities.
In December, our office, along with our federal, state, and local law enforcement partners, announced the dismantling of a Sinaloa Cartel trafficking network that brought staggering quantities of meth, along with fentanyl-laced fake oxycontin pills and heroin, to Butte for redistribution. This years-long probe resulted in federal convictions in Montana of 22 individuals from Montana, California and Mexico.
Drug traffickers convicted in U.S. District Court face long prison sentences because there is no parole in the federal system. Here are a few of the cases we have prosecuted so far this year:
• In February, a Billings man was sentenced to 18 years in federal prison for trafficking fentanyl pills and heroin and for illegally possessing a firearm.
• In March, a Washington drug dealer was sentenced to 12 years in prison for trafficking meth, heroin, cocaine and fentanyl in Cascade County and on the Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation.
• Also in March, a Stevensville man was sentenced to 16 years in prison for conviction in a large-scale operation to make and distribute fentanyl and meth pills.
And our work continues, with the recent indictments of more than 20 individuals following an investigation of a major drug trafficking organization.
As we work to shut down drug trafficking organizations attempting to operate here in Montana, the United States Department of Justice is also attacking the fentanyl epidemic with significant and comprehensive enforcement action aimed at the Sinaloa Cartel’s global operation. In April, the Justice Department announced charges against several leaders of the Sinaloa Cartel and numerous other individuals accused of trafficking fentanyl.
Behind all of the horrifying statistics are real people who are suffering tremendous losses. I have met with families whose loved ones have died from fentanyl poisoning. I have listened as they bravely shared painful, personal stories.
I know nothing can bring back a loved one, but I want Montanans to know that our office remains relentless in our efforts to investigate and prosecute drug traffickers, hold them accountable, and obtain justice for Montana victims and their families.
Jesse Laslovich is the U.S. Attorney for the District of Montana.
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