Thursday, June 13, 2024

Montana law enforcement seizures of fentanyl sets new record

by The Western News
| September 12, 2023 7:00 AM

Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen announced recently anti-drug task forces in Montana have already seized more fentanyl in the first half of the year than they did in 2022, which blasted previous records.

Through June 30, Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area task forces seized a total of 286,897 dosage units of fentanyl in Montana – an increase of 52 percent over the total amount seized in 2022 when they seized 188,823 dosage units. In 2021, they seized 60,557 dosage units.

“Fentanyl is a dangerous drug that’s poisoning and killing Montanans at an alarming rate. It’s coming in from President Biden’s wide-open southern border and infiltrating our communities here in Montana,” Attorney General Knudsen said. “I’ll continue to do everything I can at the Department of Justice to fight fentanyl, but please educate yourself and your family about the dangers – and never take a pill that hasn’t been prescribed to you. There’s no better time than today as we remember the lives that have been lost to fentanyl overdose and recognize the devastation it is having on our communities.”

These quantities are from the six RMHIDTA Montana task forces and are not all inclusive of drugs seized by all law enforcement in the state. Attorney General Knudsen oversees the Montana Department of Justice’s narcotics bureau and Montana Highway Patrol criminal interdiction teams that participate in the task forces.

The task forces have also seized 45 percent more cocaine than they did last year. They have already seized 35.04 pounds of cocaine compared to 24.11 pounds in 2022. Additionally, they’ve already taken nearly the same amount of methamphetamine as they did last year, with 187.60 pounds seized through the first half of the year.

More routine traffic stops by Montana Highway Patrol troopers are also resulting in drug busts. Between January and June of this year, the Montana Highway Patrol seized or assisted in seizing 62,373 fentanyl pills and 1.33 pounds of fentanyl during stops, including 5,745 pills and 15.82 grams during cold traffic stops made by the Patrol.

Fentanyl-linked deaths have also been on the rise in Montana. Last year, the State Crime Lab reported 77 overdose deaths involving fentanyl – an increase of 1,750 percent from 2017 when there were just four.

According to preliminary data, there were 48 during the first half of 2023. The statewide total is higher, as the crime lab only verifies deaths that involve an autopsy.

To combat the problem in Montana, Attorney General Knudsen secured funding for two narcotics agents at the Division of Criminal Investigation, during the 2023 Legislative Session. He also supported bills that will help combat the crisis:

House Bill 791, sponsored by Rep. Courtenay Sprunger of Kalispell, imposes a mandatory minimum sentence of two years of jail time, a $50,000 fine, or both, for anyone convicted of trafficking fentanyl in the state of Montana.

Senate Bill 67, sponsored by Sen. Tom McGillvary of Billings, revises drugs scheduled for Schedule I, Schedule II, Schedule III, Schedule IV and Schedule V controlled substances and provides updates to each listed schedule, enabling more state-level prosecutions.

House Bill 437, sponsored by Rep. Katie Zolnikov of Billings, generally revises criminal drug laws to remove items related to testing drugs from the list of illegal paraphernalia and revises the definition of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) that will save money and improve efficiency at the State Crime Lab.

Earlier this year, he urged U.S. Senate leadership to pass the HALT Fentanyl Act to permanently schedule all current and future fentanyl analogues as Schedule I drugs to give law enforcement the tools they needed to crack down on the epidemic by stopping the flow of the dangerous drugs developed to imitate fentanyl.

In addition to increasing the number of Montana Department of Justice narcotics and major case agents, Attorney General Knudsen has added a statewide drug intelligence officer who assists local law enforcement and public health agencies and spearheaded a grant program that helped deploy two dozen drug detecting K9s around the state.

He also continues to fight the Biden administration’s disastrous border policies in federal court, engaging in multiple lawsuits to compel it to enforce existing immigration laws and secure the border.

Additionally, Attorney General Knudsen has called on the Biden administration to designate drug cartels as terrorist organizations, take a tougher stance toward China and Mexico against the influx of fentanyl, and classify fentanyl as a weapon of mass destruction.