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U.S. Attorney: Billings, Helena, Great Falls top cities for fentanyl

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Posted at 10:05 AM, Jul 11, 2023

BILLINGS - Billings, Helena and Great Falls are top hotspots for drug trafficking of fentanyl, while Missoula falls in fourth, U.S. Attorney for the District of Montana Jesse Laslovich said Monday at a public forum.

He also said drug traffickers are preying on reservations. Billings is outside of the Crow Tribe Indian Reservation along with the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation, and Great Falls traffickers are going to Blackfeet, Fort Belknap, and Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservations, Laslovich said.

More than 30 people attended the public forum hosted by City Club Missoula on Monday where Laslovich and Missoula Police Chief Mike Colyer spoke about rising cases of fentanyl drug trafficking in Montana, reports the Daily Montanan.

City Club Missoula is an organization focused on civic engagement whose mission is to bring people together to inform and inspire citizens on issues vital to the community.

Over the last few years, fentanyl has become prevalent in the state of Montana, with 62 deaths in 2021, according to the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services.

At the event, Laslovich spoke of the dangers of fentanyl and also discussed how it makes its way to Montana. He said fentanyl is 100 times more potent than morphine and is the leading cause of death for those under the age of 50, citing the Drug Enforcement Administration.

“Because of potency, not just Americans and Montanans, but people internationally … are turning to fentanyl because of the impact that it has on them,” said Laslovich.

He said most of the fentanyl and methamphetamine is coming into the U.S. from Mexico, and he blamed the Sinaloa and Jalisco cartels along with China. Laslovich said the problem is an international one, as the precursors that are necessary to make fentanyl are coming from China.

The biggest entry for smuggling fentanyl is through the southern border, and Laslovich said that western Montana gets the drug from Spokane, Washington, and eastern Montana gets it through Denver.

Also, he said the cost of fentanyl rises as it travels north. In San Diego, it costs 50 cents to a dollar, while in Montana, it costs from $25 to $100 for the same amount. Fentanyl is typically measured in grams.

Laslovich also discussed drug traffickers who prey on reservations. He said those who are drug trafficking in and around the reservations do not live on the reservations but in nearby cities, and will establish residency in those cities.

“I think what the drug traffickers recognize is that there’s opportunity on the reservations. And so they target the reservations,” said Laslovich. “It’s not the reservations, or the tribal members, who are the problem. It’s the drug traffickers who were preying on them. And because of that geographic proximity, there’s additional drug trafficking occurring in those towns near the reservations.”

Montana began to see a spike of use and overdoses of fentanyl in 2022, and it’s continued until now, but the drug began to pop up in the state around 2017 and 2018.

“People … in law enforcement would say we found one pill of fentanyl, but now, one fentanyl pill is nothing,” Laslovich said.

Law enforcement officers are trying to be prepared, the presenters said. Missoula Police Chief Colyer said police officers are equipped with single dose fentanyl inhalers that are mounted on their ballistic vests.

“They have with them all the time the Narcan antidote to provide to people who have overdosed,” said Colyer. “We are always going to put the safety of everybody first, and those Narcan applicators are one of our best choices.”

Colyer said that fentanyl and methamphetamine are the “king and queen” of drugs in Missoula, and almost put heroin out of business.

Laslovich said those who are indicted for trafficking fentanyl are in the age range of 30-60 years old.

“There are overdoses with college students, and that’s what’s tragic about this, where they’re experimenting with a drug that is laced with fentanyl. They don’t know it. And it kills them,” said Laslovich.

He said he’s met family members who have lost children who were good students and not addicts, and he has a message to younger people.

“You can’t take the risk. … you’re risking your life,” he said.

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