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Eye-opening new stats lead to increased fears over fentanyl in Montana

New numbers coming out of the Montana Attorney General’s office show fentanyl drug seizures in the state of Montana have doubled in just one year
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Posted at 2:14 PM, Mar 06, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-06 16:14:29-05

BILLINGS- New numbers coming out of the Montana Attorney General’s Office show fentanyl drug seizures in the state of Montana have doubled in just one year.

Newly released numbers for 2023 show drug agents with the Montana Division of Criminal Investigation and Montana Highway Patrol troopers stopped a record 398,522 fentanyl dosages in the state, compared to 188,823 in 2022.

Deaths from fentanyl overdose are also up to 80 in 2023 in Montana.

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It’s these numbers, plus the amount that agents aren’t capturing, that keeps Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen up at night.

“We’ve had to get educated on fentanyl really quickly,” said Knudsen. “We’re happy with these numbers in that we’re taking a lot of fentanyl off the streets and off the highways and hopefully disrupting activities, but how much have we missed?”

Those working to infiltrate the drug trade on Montana’s roads and highways, along with rural communities and big cities like Billings, say the work seems vast.

“We are seeing bigger seizures, more seizures,” said Cameron Pavlicek.

Pavlicek is DCI’s regional agent in charge and gave MTN News a look at the variety and number of drugs seized in Montana by agents and those with the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Task Force.

Fentanyl pills, mushrooms and stolen guns are just some of items drug agents pull from seizures.

“They are larger loads, across the board,” he said.

He says in his long career in law enforcement, he’s never seen such a high number of drugs seized.

“More cases, more suspects. Everything has increased dramatically,” he said.

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Pavlicek says the secret is out: Montana is a hot spot for the cartels to make money.

“A Washington pill in Washington is anywhere from a $1 to $3 a pill and that pill is worth $15 to $20 here in Billings,” he said. “And can be worth more than that the further rural communities that you get into.”

Knudsen, a Republican, attributes the rise in numbers back to the crisis at the southern border.

“I would say that every country in this state is now a border state,” said Knudsen. “Fentanyl is the product that the cartels are making, the product they’re mass producing it into our country and into our state.”

So Montana set out to intensify its drug defenses. Knudsen said Montana lawmakers approved funding for more narcotics agents and criminal investigators at his request through the state’s most recent budget. It was a line item Gov. Greg Gianforte agreed to and approved.

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“We’ve got three more narcotics agents. We did get a few more human trafficking agents. Ssome of those positions have been filled, and some of them are in the process,” said Knudsen.

Pavlicek says the challenge remains pointing back to resources and the amount of time it takes to research and investigate drug activity before an arrest is made or drugs are taken off the streets.

“We are over-inundated with criminals across the state,” he said. “Statewide we have seen a huge influx, our seizures have gone way up.”

In addition to rising fentanyl case, Pavlicek says there’s an interesting twist in the drug trade. DCI agents are also seeing a resurgence of cocaine coming into the state, usually in huge amounts.

Still, fentanyl remains the largest concern as it is making traffickers the most money.