Fentanyl 'epidemic' hits county
Last updated 5/19/2022 at 3:12pm
COLFAX – Fentanyl disguised as common pharmaceuticals are flooding Whitman County and leading to a rise in crime.
The Whitman County Sheriff’s Office is reporting a drastic rise in the last year.
And Sheriff Brett Myers is concerned with the rise; he said a “tidal wave of fentanyl” is hitting the county.
According to the sheriff, the circulation of “Mexies” here began its climb after a bill reducing law enforcement capabilities passed the Legislature on Feb. 25, 2021.
The new law changed the conviction process and prohibited charges until a third arrest of an individual for drug possession, he said.
Rather than arresting someone for felony for drug possession, officers are required to refer an individual for drug treatment until a third arrest. On the third arrest, the person in possession may only be charged with a misdemeanor, under the law.
“Right now, it’s pretty safe for people to do drugs,” Myers said. “If we go back to 2019, we had very few fentanyl tablets to detect. In 2021, we were up over 750 tablets.
“We are already at that level alone this year. We see a tidal wave of fentanyl. We are already well over 1,000 fentanyl pills seen at our regional task force level.”
Disguised as a small blue pill, the Sheriff’s Office reports the tablets look nearly identical to oxycontin and are pressed in an unsafe and unmonitored environment.
Because of this, the amount of fentanyl in each tablet varies to extreme amounts, he said.
“Essentially, they are counterfeit pills, but sold as ‘Mexies,’ he said. “They are a super high powerful opioid. and are believed to be 100 times more powerful than morphine.
“They aren’t made in a pharmacy, they are pressed. Most of the Mexies we are getting in our area are coming from Spokane or the
Tri-Cities and they are headed
Whitman County Prosecuting Attorney Denis Tracy said the pills are “outrageously deadly and unpredictable.”
“Some pills contain a lot of fentanyl and others not so much. If it’s too much, someone can die,” he said. “I have two worries: One is that it’s so outright deadly that more and more people are going to overdose and die. It is so easy to overdose on.
“No. 2, with it just being another viciously addictive drug, it leads directly to an increase in property crime.”
The Prosecuting Attorney’s Office reported a rise in property-related crimes — including burglaries and thefts — across the county.
The process of prosecuting Amber Kelly for her involvement with a fatal fentanyl and oxycodone overdose of a 21-year-old Tekoa local on May 23, 2021, is underway, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Lindsi Alcantar said.
Kelly is charged with two counts of delivery of a controlled substance, court records show.
“Unfortunately, we really are seeing a lot more drug cases. Our sheriff’s office is doing their best. We can do our best to catch it and prosecute,” Alcantar said.
The Sheriff’s Office reports that it has remained proactive in getting fentanyl off the streets by working with informants and continuing traffic stops as cases of addiction rise.
Officers have shifted their focus to drug traffickers rather than individuals in possession because of the new law.
“Possession of drugs has essentially been decriminalized. There aren’t any ramifications for people and this has opened up the door to drug dealers,” Myers said. “We are probably dealing with possession of fentanyl cases on a weekly basis. The penalties for mere possession have nearly been eliminated.
“The Blake Decision essentially said the Washington state possession of illegal narcotics law was invalid and unconstitutional,” Myers added.
Amendments were made to the Blake decision May 13, 2021, which ultimately changed the defense of unknowingly possessing substances.
To be in possession, regardless of circumstances, was decided illegal by the legislative meeting. However, with the changes, the Legislature shifted drug possession from a criminal case to a public health cause.
With that shift, also came the removal of felony and misdemeanor drug charges.
Those arrested in possession of drugs are now referred for therapy and counseling.
“We have this phantom theory that illegal drugs are going to be treated by the public health system,” Tracy said. “I say ‘theory’ because, in theory, it’s great ,but in practice there have been very very little resources to assist in treatment.
“A felony charge has a good course of effect. Drug courts have been successful in the last few decades.
“Now, we don’t know what system out there will grab a person and be able to give them the resources and help they need to turn things around.”
Tracy said Washington’s drug treatment program with the new law is still incomplete and “experimental”.
“Right now, we are in a big experiment for what is going to work,” he said. “And right now, we know this isn’t working.”
Sheriff Myers is calling the rise of fentanyl a state-created “epidemic.”
“What has happened is we have created a market,” he said. “The old system was working very well. Now, we are spending our entire time on just trafficking.
“Because there is so much demand, there are more people getting addicted. The concern is the serious epidemic of drugs.”
“In order for us to address these things, we have to go back,” he said. “This has been a step in the wrong direction.”