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With fentanyl deaths rising, Seattle area sees spike in drug cartel activity

King County Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht shows a picture of a common fentanyl-laced pill that's been found across King County. (Aaron Granillo, KIRO Radio)

The head of the local Drug Enforcement Administration branch says the Seattle area is seeing a spike in activity from drug cartels, especially when it comes to pills laced with fentanyl. This also means the area is seeing a huge increase in overdose deaths.

Fentanyl overdoses in Washington see ‘stunning’ increase in 2020

Within the last year, federal officials saw a 100% year-over-year increase in the amount of fentanyl they seized in Washington state, totaling 163 pounds this year alone. Meanwhile, the country has also faced an “unprecedented” increase in overdose deaths nationwide.

DEA Special Agent in Charge Frank Tarentino III explains to KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson that even in small amounts, fentanyl is extremely deadly.

“What’s hard to appreciate is the very small quantity needed to provide a lethal dose — two milligrams is enough to essentially kill somebody,” he pointed out.

The cartels are taking advantage of the opioid epidemic both in Washington and the United States, which has created a lucrative business for them. The pills masquerade as prescription pain pills, but more than a quarter of them are laced with deadly amounts of fentanyl.

Tarentino says the cartels are very creative in their ability to get opioids here from Mexico, using tunnels, airplanes, cars, and every other way imaginable. That’s made it difficult to fully quash the cartel’s presence, given its significant resources.

The context behind fentanyl overdoses in Washington state

“They really have an imagination and an unlimited resource of money and tools to get their products to the streets, and they’re always trying to cultivate new customers,” Tarentino described.

That said, he also notes that he doesn’t believe Seattle is being specifically targeted, and that recent trends are more indicative of a nationwide spike.

“It’s everywhere, and that should concern us all,” he warned. “I don’t know that it’s necessarily specific to Seattle — I think it’s widespread throughout the country.”

Listen to the Dori Monson Show weekday afternoons from noon – 3 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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