SPOKANE, Wash. — The United States Attorney and Assistant Attorney for Eastern Washington say fentanyl seizures and prosecutions in the area have increased more than 60% in the last two years.
According to the federal prosecutors, the problem cannot be solved by law enforcement alone.
Fentanyl use is surging across the country and in the Inland Northwest. As the cheaper and more powerful synthetic opioids take hold in places like Spokane, the results are often fatal.
"In my 30 years of law enforcement experience, I've never seen something so deadly," Assistant U.S. Attorney for Eastern Washington Stephanie Van Marter said.
Fentanyl first appeared in Eastern Washington in 2016 and has quickly flooded the market, according to U.S. Attorney for Eastern Washington Vanessa Waldref.
”We have been just over the last several years seeing a huge influx of fentanyl coming into our community," she said.
Van Marter said a 1,000 pill seizure was considered a significant seizure several years ago. Today, however, law enforcement officials are seizing anywhere between 10,000-50,000 pills at a time.
"The reason that is so frightening is that those fentanyl-laced pills are getting into every aspect of our community," Van Marter said. "Our community needs to know that they exist and you are correct, one pill can kill and they look safe."
Waldref and Van Marter said fentanyl pills are commonly made to look benign, in some cases like baby aspirin, but their contents are unregulated and a single pill can be lethal.
"If you took a sugar packet and you opened it up and spread it across the table, and you separated five to seven granules of that sugar packet, that could be sufficient to cause a fatal overdose," Van Marter said. "If we are dealing with a more synthesized fentanyl, like Carfentanil, you're talking about one to two granules, that could cause a fatal overdose."
Waldref's office is prioritizing prosecuting fentanyl cases by targeting the cartels flooding the United States with the drugs, which are commonly trafficked up I-5 and across Interstate 90.
Van Marter and Waldref announced Operation Engage on Tuesday in coordination with the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to increase public awareness about the growing prevalence of fentanyl.
The federal prosecutors are also pleading with parents to talk to their children about the risks of fentanyl.
"As law enforcement leaders, we see this as a huge issue and are doing all we can," Waldref said. "But also as mothers and parents, this is something that I worry about for my children and I want to do all that we can to educate our community about these dangers."