Fentanyl: A Deadly Threat in the Rocky Mountain Region

The opioid crisis in the US has reached a new level of danger with the surge of fentanyl, a synthetic drug that is 50 times more potent than heroin. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reported a record-breaking increase in the seizure of fentanyl pills and powder in the Rocky Mountain region of the US last year, indicating the alarming extent of the drug trafficking and consumption in this area.

What is fentanyl and why is it so dangerous?

Fentanyl is a man-made opioid that is used as a painkiller and anesthetic in medical settings. However, it is also illegally produced and sold by drug cartels and dealers, often mixed with other substances such as heroin, cocaine, or methamphetamine. Fentanyl can also be pressed into counterfeit pills that look like legitimate prescription medications, such as OxyContin, Percocet, or Xanax.

Fentanyl is extremely dangerous because it is very potent and can cause respiratory depression, overdose, and death. Just two milligrams of fentanyl, the amount that fits on the tip of a pencil, is considered a potentially lethal dose. Fentanyl can also be absorbed through the skin or inhaled, posing a risk to anyone who comes in contact with it.

According to the DEA, fentanyl is now the leading cause of death for Americans between ages 18 and 45. In 2023, more than 93,000 people died from drug overdoses in the US, and more than 60% of those deaths involved synthetic opioids, mainly fentanyl.

How much fentanyl was seized in the Rocky Mountain region in 2023?

The DEA’s Rocky Mountain Field Division (RMFD), which covers the states of Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, and Montana, seized more than 77 million fentanyl pills and nearly 12,000 pounds of fentanyl powder nationally in 2023. This is the most fentanyl seized by the DEA in a single calendar year, and it represents more than 386 million deadly doses of fentanyl prevented from reaching consumers.


The RMFD also seized more fentanyl in 2023 than any previous year on record in its territory. Here are the numbers for each state:

  • Colorado: 425.60 kilograms of fentanyl seized, or approximately 2.61 million pills.
  • Utah: 119.30 kilograms of fentanyl seized, or approximately 664,200 pills.
  • Montana: 17.87 kilograms of fentanyl seized, or approximately 106,500 pills.
  • Wyoming: 4.58 kilograms of fentanyl seized, or approximately 23,700 pills.

By comparison, the RMFD seized 565,200 fentanyl pills in 2021 and 1.9 million fentanyl pills in 2022.

What are the challenges and strategies to combat fentanyl trafficking and abuse?

The DEA faces several challenges in its efforts to combat fentanyl trafficking and abuse. One of them is the oversaturation of the drug market, which makes fentanyl easily accessible and affordable for anyone, including young people. Another challenge is the constantly changing chemical composition and appearance of fentanyl and its analogues, which makes it difficult to detect and identify.

To address these challenges, the DEA has adopted several strategies, such as:

  • Focusing on investigating the two cartels most responsible for trafficking fentanyl into the US: the Sinaloa Cartel and the Jalisco New Generation Cartel.
  • Enhancing the collaboration and coordination with federal, state, and local law enforcement partners, as well as international counterparts, to disrupt and dismantle the fentanyl supply chain.
  • Increasing the public awareness and education about the dangers of fentanyl and the availability of resources and treatment options for those who suffer from substance use disorder.
  • Providing training and equipment to protect the safety and health of DEA agents and other first responders who encounter fentanyl in the field.

The DEA urges everyone to be vigilant and cautious about the presence and risks of fentanyl in their communities. Anyone who suspects or witnesses fentanyl-related activity is encouraged to report it to the DEA through its tip line at 1-877-RxAbuse (1-877-792-2873) or online at www.dea.gov/tips.

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