(Update: Adding video, comments from Detective Sergeant)
Fentanyl cases are being coined as a modern day Russian roulette
BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- The issues of deadly fentanyl pouring over the mountains and the High Desert are on the rise, as evident from recent arrests of traffickers returning from the Portland area with the fake pills containing the deadly drug.
The Central Oregon Drug Enforcement Team and the Deschutes County Sheriff's Office Street Crimes Unit have lately been reporting the arrests of several area residents returning to the region from the Portland area with shipments of fake pharmaceutical pills containing deadly fentanyl.
Detective Sergeant Kent Vander Kamp said Thursday they've seen a more than 141% increase in Oregon, just since last year.
The most recent arrests have involved Redmond and Prineville residents, as well as a Bend man who allegedly threw a bag of the fake pills out of the car as he was pulled over on Highway 97 near Terrebonne. In all three cases, the arrested individuals were importing fentanyl pills from the Portland area.
Vander Kamp says the Portland area is a major transshipment hub where illegal drugs come from the southwest border are stored in local warehouses, storage units and residential properties.
I asked Vander Kamp, who asked us not to show his face, if he could paint the picture of a typical trafficker.
"They tend to be men in their mid 20s to 30s, for the traffickers," he said. "For the users, that's the bigger problem. The users right now are from 14 -- maybe some places even younger -- to as high as the 60s.
"Some of those accidental overdoses are because they think that they're using prescription medications, and others are addicts trying to find the next high. So we're seeing this huge demographic of users. But yet, the traffickers tend to be young men."
The detective explained how the pills are handled, due to the risk of even touching them.
"Some of those packages, we don't even open them," Vander Kamp said. "We have equipment now where we can test the drug from inside the package using more or so ... a laser, so we don't have to open the packages."
They then are secured in evidence, and cases are finished, the package is sent away for destruction.
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' Veterans Health Administration, it only takes 2 milligrams of fentanyl -- equal in size to a few grains of salt -- to cause an overdose.
Vander Kamp said the pills are also inconsistently made -- some may be all binder, others all fentanyl.
"Imagine a five-gallon bucket or small tub basin being used to mix them," he said. "There's no recipe, there's no measuring cups, there's no formula. They're simply mixing it up and putting it in a simple commercial press machine. So it's become the modern-day version of Russian roulette."
The sergeant said the Portland area is experiencing these same issues as a major drug shipment point.
"Portland is a hub city for a lot of the Pacific Northwest, simply because it's one of the larger cities on the I-5 corridor that goes north-south, as well as the I-84 that goes east to west. Portland is an ideal spot for that."
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 107,000 people have died as a result from a drug overdose or poisoning in the U.S.
"Criminal drug networks in Mexico are mass-producing illicit fentanyl and fake pills pressed with fentanyl in filthy, clandestine, unregulated labs," Vander Kamp explained recently. "These fake pills are designed to look like real prescription pills, right down to the size, shape, color and stamping. These fake pills typically replicate real prescription opioid medications, such as oxycodone (Oxycontin®, Percocet®), hydrocodone (Vicodin®), and alprazolam (Xanax®), or stimulants like amphetamines (Adderall®)."