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The one-pill kill

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Photo by Kim Dean/NLJ A crowd of multiple law enforcement agencies attended 21 Wellness Coalition’s luncheon and community presentation on fentanyl. Here, Weston County Sheriff Deputies Brice Remus and Kevin Stolz register and visit with Kristi Lipp, 21 Wellness Coalition, and Andrea Gregory, Wyoming Department of Corrections Probation and Parole.
Lydia Pongratz, NLJ Reporter

From powder to pill, fentanyl walks alongside other opioids in powering the United States’ most enormous drug distress in all of history, according to a presentation by Ryan Cox, the commander of WIAT, ICAC, Headquarters and Cold Case Teams for the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation. Cox made his presentation to a public audience at the Cambria Room of the Newcastle Lodge and Convention Center in Newcastle, Wyoming on Thursday, March 21, 2024. The event was hosted by the 21 Wellness Coalition, and Cox repeated the presentation in Upton later that evening.

With little to no awareness of the truth behind the drug, community members in Newcastle are falling victim to its deadly grasp, day after day, Cox said.

“It’s just a little shocking how much fentanyl is coming into Wyoming and through Wyoming,” Cox said.

He was brought in by 21 Wellness to share the reality behind drug trafficking, and reveal some of the trends in drug investigations. He told the audience that knowledge is the key to living a healthy, intentional lifestyle. Educating yourself on the dangers that lie on the other side of just one use, is crucial in today’s world.

“While there is a lot of education regarding fentanyl, there can always be more”, Cox said.

“Being 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine is just a representation of how fatal one dosage is.”

According to Cox, it is important to know that there are many different types of fentanyl. They are all deadly with even a miniscule dose, but it is essential to understand that there are specific variations of fentanyl that have been proved more deadly than the next.

“Carenal fentanyl, it is an elephant tranquilizer. So we talk about how deadly fentanyl is, you know, carenal fentanyl is substantially worse,” Cox said. “We have recently seized carenal fentanyl in the state of Wyoming.”

According to Cox and his research, popular fentanyl pills called blues or street oxys have become the rave of this century. Cox and his team were shocked to see, in the spring of 2023, powdered fentanyl making a comeback.

“We go from 2020 to 2023 and we are just seeing the blues, we haven’t seen any powder. And then all of a sudden in spring of 2023, we start seeing powdered fentanyl again. And about the same time we started seeing other stimulates mixed with powdered fentanyl, most commonly cocaine. This was the upcoming trend in 2023, and that wasn’t just for the state of Wyoming; that was nationwide,” Cox said.

With such a deadly drug roaming the streets, Cox is making these types of presentations because raising awareness in Wyoming communities is key to preventing you or your loved ones from encountering a fatal incident.

“As fentanyl acts as a depressant for the body, and cocaine or methamphetamine work as stimulants, this combination, when taken out of proportion, leads to deadly overdoses,” Cox reported.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Association has stated that  “one pill could kill,” and Cox reinforced that warning about fentanyl last week. He said it is important to keep in mind that only a small dosage is deadly, so it is crucial for people to be aware of what they are consuming.

Powder or pill, the risk is far grander than one could ever imagine.

As drug trends shift, Cox explained, fentanyl prices shift along with it. According to the Wyoming Department of Health, in the United States, and more specifically in the state of Wyoming, fentanyl is becoming more readily accessible, as well as affordable.

“Someone can spend $2,000 for one kilo of fentanyl powder and convert it into pill form, which would give you 666,000 fentanyl pills from that $2,000 purchase. And then sell those pills for $1.50 to $20 per pill. It’s less than that now,” Cox said. “We are nowhere near $20 a pill. At one point in Wyoming, we were seeing even $35. Now we will see it as low as $1.50, but on average it’s about $4.”

Price is probably just one of the factors contributing to the increase in fentanyl use in Wyoming. According to the Wyoming Prevention Action Alliance foundation (WPAA), there are many different reasons why people experiment with drugs to begin with, from rebellion to unhealthy coping mechanisms.

“November of 2022 was when we really started seeing a skyrocket effect here in Wyoming,” and it continues on into 2023,” Cox said.

When the urge becomes strong enough that you or your loved ones are putting a precious life on the line, that’s when it’s time to take action.

“One guy I came in contact with, had to be 20 or 22 years old, you know. What are you doing? How did you get here? And I just know it’s because of drugs because of the work I’ve done,” Cox said.

Fortunately help is available in all corners of the town you call home, at all times. WYWETALK is a local support system in Wyoming that offers education and prevention programs for people struggling with addiction, and the National Alliance for Drug Endangered Children is another branch of support.

The National DEC develops coordinated, nationwide efforts to touch on legal or illegal substance abuse and misuse affecting people of all ages, including children and families. Help, hope and support is quickly spread when choosing to seek help for you and your family’s highest interest, according to the National DEC.

The Weston Country Public Health website constructed by public health professionals, such as Angela Phillips, also offers reliable resources about opioid overdose prevention for individuals and families.

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