By MICHAEL WELLS
For Inland 360
A fentanyl crisis that is sweeping the nation has yet to take hold in the region, according to local law enforcement.
Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid pain reliever, is 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Prescription fentanyl comes in the form of transdermal patches and lozenges, but fentanyl-related overdoses and deaths are linked to illegally made fentanyl, according to the CDC. (see related story).
Synthetic opioids accounted for 28,000 deaths of the 70,000 drug overdoses in the U.S. in 2017, according to the CDC. Illicit fentanyl is laced with other drugs, such as heroin and cocaine or both, and then pressed into counterfeit pills.
Nez Perce County Coroner Joshua Hall reported one opiate overdose in 2019 and one from heroin in 2018. There were three opiate overdoses and one heroin overdose in 2017 and one opiate overdose in 2016 in Nez Perce County, Hall said.
Asotin County Chief Deputy Coroner Lisa Webber reported three opioid overdose deaths in 2016, 2017 and again in 2019.
Whitman County Coroner Annie Pillers reported four opioid overdoses in 2015, five in 2015, two in 2017, one in 2018 and one in 2019.
Lewiston Police have booked into evidence one fentanyl pill in 2019, Detective Cody Bloomsburg said. A local heroin user had obtained it on the black market.
Mexican drug cartels make and sell an illicit fentanyl tablet that looks like Oxycodone 30, and its street name is “Mexi,” but “we have not seen a lot of fentanyl,” Bloomsburg said.
“We have not seen people ordering bags of fentanyl from China on the dark web,” Lewiston Police Detective Brett Dammon said. “We haven’t seen the powdered fentanyl from the cartels.”
Idaho State Police Region 2 Patrol and Investigations Capt. Ed Westbrook agreed the illicit fentanyl crisis hasn’t hit north central Idaho, but it may be headed this way.
“We haven’t seen a lot of it here,” Westbrook said. “There’s been a big increase of it down in southern Idaho, so it’s probably just a matter of time.”
Idaho Department of Health and Welfare statistics show that Public Health District 2, which consists of Nez Perce, Latah, Lewis, Clearwater and Idaho counties, had the fewest drug overdose deaths and opioid overdose deaths in the state from 2014-18.
There were 538 opioid overdose deaths in Idaho from 2014-18, according to the IDHW report Drug Overdose Deaths: Idaho Residents 2014-2018. There were 31 opioid overdose deaths in District 2, the report said.
Fentanyl killed 65 Idahoans from 2014-18 and three Idahoans in District 2 during those years. Oxycodone, Hydrocodone and Codeine outpaced all other opioid drugs that killed Idahoans, with 243 overdose deaths during the period, and those drugs accounted for 14 of the opioid overdose deaths in District 2, the report said.
Lewiston police and fire as well as Idaho State Police emergency vehicles carry opioid overdose antidote that can be used to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose and save lives.
Lewiston Fire Department Deputy Fire Chief Gaylon Waits said opioid antidotes were used about 30 times in 2019.
Waits hasn’t seen a fentanyl problem in the area either.
“More folks are overdosing on oxycodone than fentanyl or illicit fentanyl,” he said.
The region has seen the opioid crisis hit, Bloomsburg said, noting there was a big uptick in heroin in the area that continued into 2017. In 2018, Lewiston police had 57 pieces of evidence labeled as heroin; that number fell to 45 in 2019.
Bloomsburg and Dammon attribute mandatory minimum sentences for heroin trafficking in Idaho for curtailing a growing problem in heroin traffic.
“Idaho has good laws,” Dammon said.
Heroin traffickers caught with two to seven grams of heroin are looking at three-year fixed sentences in prison; seven grams to an ounce means a fixed sentence of 10 years; anything above an ounce of heroin, and the dealer is looking at a fixed sentence of 15 years, Bloomsburg said.
While mandatory minimum sentences may have slowed heroin trafficking in the area, drug addicts are still stealing prescription opioids, Dammon said.
Idaho doesn’t have mandatory minimum sentences for fentanyl, he said.
People who try heroin often are immediately addicted to it, Bloomsburg said.
“Opioid or heroin addicts, in our experience, have a more difficult time than meth users,” Bloomsburg said. “For whatever reason, people were not meant to use opioids.”
Lewiston Police have a prescription drug drop-off in the department’s lobby at 1224 F St. where residents can dispose of any unused prescription drugs.