(BOZEMAN) The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reports that deaths caused by drug overdoses are on the rise, including here in Montana. Morgan Davies reports on the increase in overdose deaths and what Montana law enforcement believe could be the cause of this upward trend.
Fentanyl, a prescription drug mostly used to treat cancer patients in its final stages, is now more than ever being used as a recreational drug
"Fentanyl has been present around here for a long time in various forms, but the unknown substances and the accessibility to it really increased last summer,” Bozeman Police Captain Jim Veltkamp said.
You'd be surprised just how easy it is to get your hands on fentanyl. On one popular social media site, we found multiple links to buy fentanyl.
Gallatin County saw four deaths in 2017 due to fentanyl overdoses. There was also a large fentanyl and heroin bust made in Bozeman, linking that batch of fentanyl-laced heroin to overdoses in Butte.
Most opiate users come into contact with fentanyl when it’s used as a cutting agent in heroin.
"The proper steps to measure and to take the quality controls that a pharmaceutical company would take is not taken. So, you may take a pill that has an unknown quantity of fentanyl,” said Bozeman Police Captain Ryan Stratman.
It doesn't take much to get a lethal dose of fentanyl. A deadly dose of heroin is about the size of a dime and the lethal dose of fentanyl is much smaller.
"It’s an unknown, and that the danger of it (is) a very, very small amount of a trans-dermal opiate can end up being an overdose,” Veltkamp said.
There's the danger for law enforcement officers - fentanyl is transdermal. For medical use, it is sold as a patch that patients could wear to ease pain.
But for officers out in the field, coming into contact with fentanyl could be deadly.
"We have done basically a department-wide training on the exposures on what to do if we our other officers come into contact with fentanyl,” said Bozeman Police officer Tracy Senenfelder.
All officers are now carrying NARCAN. Another important part of the police departments team for when it comes to finding drugs is the K9 units - and fentanyl can be just as dangerous for the dogs as the humans.
"Before we even deploy the dogs we kind of do a safety assessment if the dogs do come in contact with it though we each carry Narcan nasal spray for the K9s,” Senenfelder said.
Unfortunately for law enforcement, coming in contact with the unknown is a bigger risk. The fentanyl products are no longer just coming from the pharmaceutical companies – the drug is being manufactured outside of the U.S. and being shipped back.
“The chances that we will come across it has increased the more variety it comes in the unknowns that more of the reason why we had to take a precaution,” Veltkamp said.
Montana Attorney General Tim Fox recognized the increase in lethal doses of fentanyl moving around Montana and in October of 2017 he urged law enforcement to look at overdose deaths as homicides instead of accidents.