‘Northern Border State With A Southern Border Problem’: Montana Reeling As Fentanyl Seizures Skyrocket

"It's a massive crisis."
VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA - MAY 03: Shyan Willow, 27, smokes fentanyl through a glass pipe along East Hastings Street in the Downtown Eastside (DTES) neighborhood on Tuesday, May 3, 2022 in Vancouver, British Columbia. Supervised consumption sites in the DTES give addicts who use fentanyl, opioids, crystal methamphetamine and other drugs a place to use and get harm reduction supplies; clean syringes, alcohol swabs, sterile water, tourniquets, spoons and filters. On April 14, 2016, provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall declared a public health emergency under the Public Health Act due to the significant rise in opioid-related overdose deaths reported in B.C. since the beginning of 2016. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

It may be a northern state, but Montana is groaning over the record amounts of fentanyl flooding over the Southern border.

In the first six months of this year, Montana law enforcement seized 58 times more fentanyl than they seized in all of 2019. The state’s Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area task forces seized nearly 112,000 fentanyl doses, and that doesn’t even include fentanyl seized by other law enforcement across the state. In comparison, over 60,000 doses were seized last year and only 1,900 dosage units were seized in 2019.

“It’s growing exponentially, and it’s a massive crisis devastating with honestly deadly consequences,” Montana Republican Governor Greg Gianforte told The Daily Wire in an interview.

Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is cheap to make and easily transported, is about 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine. Because it is often cut with other drugs, users may often be unaware that they are consuming the powerful substance, which can be deadly even in small doses. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), 42% of pills tested for fentanyl contained a potentially lethal dose.

Fentanyl overdoses are now the leading cause of death for Americans 18 to 45, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). During the year that ended October 2021, nearly 106,000 people died from drug overdoses, according to the CDC, a surge largely driven by fentanyl and other synthetic opioids.

In Montana, 34 people have already died this year from fentanyl overdoses, with dozens more deaths suspected, according to the Montana Justice Department. Last year, fatal fentanyl overdoses in Montana spiked 1,100% since 2017 from four to 49. Since 2021, opioid-related emergency medical responses have spiked 57%.

As overdoses tick up across the state, Montana officials and law enforcement are pleading with the Biden administration to do something about the porous U.S.-Mexico border, which they blame for the deadly crisis.

“Even though we’re 1,200 miles away from the southern border, I can tell you we’re a northern border state with a southern border problem,” said Gianforte. “It’s just ripping our communities apart,”

More and more, Mexican cartels are manufacturing fentanyl for distribution in the U.S., importing the chemical precursors for fentanyl production from China and turning them into pills and powder at “massive, industrial-scale labs,” according to the Justice Department. In recent weeks, law enforcement across the country has been on alert for a creative new version of the deadly drug dubbed “rainbow fentanyl,” which resembles candy.

In July, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) seized 2,100 pounds of fentanyl, more than 200% more than the 640 pounds the agency seized in June.

Mexican cartels have in the past used the migrant crisis to overwhelm and distract Border Patrol agents as they smuggle drugs across the border, according to James Carroll, the Trump administration’s drug czar.

Last fall, Gianforte visited the southern border in Texas with nine other governors. Afterwards, the 10 governors asked the Biden administration for a meeting and sent over a 10-point plan to secure the border and combat the drug crisis.

“We haven’t gotten a return phone call,” Gianforte said.

Since taking office, President Joe Biden has moved to axe two Trump-era policies, Title 42, which allowed authorities to quickly expel migrants due to the COVID pandemic, and the “Remain in Mexico” policy, which made asylum-seekers wait in Mexico while their cases are pending.

Last week, Gianforte held a press conference along Highway 191 in the Gallatin Valley, a drug trafficking hotspot, to again urge the Biden administration to take action to stanch the flow of fentanyl from Mexico.

“I consider fentanyl truly the number one threat to Montana,” said Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen at the press conference.

“This is an absolute poison that is tearing our communities and our state apart,” Knudsen said, adding that he recently spoke with one woman who has lost two sons in two separate fentanyl overdoses and is now raising her grandchildren from both sons.

Montana has worked to combat its addiction crisis with the HEART Fund, which invests $25 million a year in behavioral health and treatment programs, as well as the Angel Initiative, a program to allow addicts to walk into a law enforcement office and get connected with treatment.

With Mexican cartels operating within Montana and a “tsunami of drugs” coming in though, the state has struggled to control the crisis, according to Gianforte.

Even Amtrak is involved.

“They throw it out the windows and then on their cell phone call a local mule to go pick up the package along the tracks,” Gianforte said.

Gianforte also estimated that drugs are responsible for as much as 90% of Montana’s violent crime.

“Ultimately, a country without a border is no country at all. We must secure the southern border,” Gianforte said. “This should not be a political issue. We are losing lives. Families are being ripped apart.”

In April, Gianforte and 25 other governors formed the American Governors’ Border Strike Force, which works to secure the border and combat drug trafficking in the absence of more federal action.

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