AG Knudsen: New data show fentanyl is top public safety threat in Montana
Anti-drug task forces in Montana are on pace to triple last year’s record-shattering fentanyl seizures and have already taken 58 times more fentanyl off the streets this year than in all of 2019, Attorney General Austin Knudsen announced today. Fentanyl-linked deaths, opioid overdose 911 calls requiring emergency services, and firearms found alongside illegal drugs are also on the rise this year.
Through June 30, Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (RMHIDTA) task forces seized 111,611 fentanyl dosage units in Montana. This number includes 17,892 fentanyl dosage units combined with 20.66 fentanyl pounds converted to dosage units. In all of 2021, task forces seized 37,724 dosage units and 5.03 pounds of fentanyl, totaling 60,577 combined dosage units. In 2020, that combined amount was 6,663 and in 2019 it was 1,900.
These quantities are from the six RMHIDTA Montana task forces and are not all inclusive of drugs seized by all law enforcement the state. Under the purview of Attorney General Knudsen, Montana Department of Justice’s narcotics bureau and state Highway Patrol criminal interdiction teams participate in these task forces.
“There’s no question that fentanyl is now the number one public safety threat facing Montana. Mexican drug cartels are pushing it across the border, flooding it into our state at an unprecedented rate — and killing Montanans,” Attorney General Knudsen said. “I’ve put additional resources into the fight against drugs and crime in Montana and will continue my efforts alongside other law enforcement agencies to keep our communities safe.”
Drug overdose deaths increased 30 percent in the United States from 2019 to 2020, according to the CDC, and are now a leading cause of death for young adults. The rate of overdose deaths increased 49 percent among Native American people ages 25 to 44 years old. Fentanyl is the primary driver of the increases.
The number of overdose deaths have also been accelerating in Montana. Last year, the state crime lab saw fentanyl-linked fatal overdoses increase more than 1,100 percent since 2017 (from 4 in 2017 to 49 in 2021). In the first five months of this year, the lab has already confirmed 34 deaths where fentanyl was involved. Dozens more are suspected but not yet confirmed. Opioid-related response by emergency medical services this year are up 57 percent over 2021.
In March, the Blackfeet Tribe declared a state of emergency after 17 drug overdoses – including four that were fatal – occurred in just one week. In the period from May 22 to June 1, there were at least eight fatal overdoses across seven different Montana counties involving individuals aged 24 to 60 years old.
Methamphetamine remains a significant threat in Montana and it is a contributing factor to many other crimes committed, county prosecutors say. RMHIDTA task forces have taken 129 pounds of meth off the road so far this year, along with 4.6 pounds of heroin, and 8.1 pounds of cocaine.
Montana law enforcement officers are also seeing more firearms alongside dangerous drugs. Through the first half of this year, they’ve already seized 308 weapons, 82 percent of last year’s 375 total.
Fentanyl is being produced in industrial-scale cartel labs in Mexico from Chinese-made materials before its smuggled into the United States.
Attorney General Knudsen has been fighting 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. He also called on the Biden administration earlier this year to take a tougher stance toward China and Mexico against the influx of fentanyl.
To fight the problem in our state, Attorney General Knudsen has increased the number of Montana Department of Justice narcotics and major case agents, 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.