AG Knudsen announces another record-breaking year for fentanyl seizures

HELENA – Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen announced today an over 20,000 percent increase in fentanyl seizures by anti-drug forces in Montana since 2019. Additionally, over twice as much fentanyl was seized in 2023 compared to 2022, shattering previous records.

In 2023, Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area task forces seized a total of 398,552 dosage units of fentanyl in Montana – a 111 percent increase in the total amount seized in 2022 when 188,823 dosage units were seized. It’s also a nearly 600 percent increase from 2021 when 60,557 dosage units were seized and a 6,000 percent increase from 2020 when 6,663 dosage units were seized.

“Fentanyl is a poison that’s killing men, women, and children at unprecedented rates and devastating Montana communities. As Attorney General, I’m doing everything I can to combat this crisis,” Attorney General Knudsen said. “We’re putting more boots on the ground and giving prosecutors the tools they need to hold perpetrators accountable, but until the southern border is secure the problem will not be solved. President Biden needs to do his job, follow the law, and secure the border.”

These quantities are from the six RMHIDTA Montana task forces, which includes the Montana Department of Justice’s narcotics bureau and Montana Highway Patrol criminal interdiction teams, which are overseen by Attorney General Knudsen, and are not all inclusive of drugs seized by all law enforcement in the state. The task forces also seized 41.31 total pounds of cocaine, nearly twice that of last year’s 24.11 pounds. Methamphetamine seizures increased slightly, with 211.94 pounds taken off the streets in 2023 compared to 200 in 2022.

Fentanyl-linked deaths also continue to trend upward in Montana. The State Crime Lab has preliminarily reported 80 overdose deaths involving fentanyl in 2023 – an increase of 1,900 percent from 2017 when there were just four. This number does not reflect the entire statewide total, as the crime lab only verifies deaths that involve an autopsy.

“Please, never take a pill that isn’t prescribed to you and talk to your children about the dangers of drugs. Just one pill can take a life,” Attorney General Knudsen said.

To combat the problem in Montana, Attorney General Knudsen secured funding for two narcotics agents at the Division of Criminal Investigation, during the 2023 Legislative Session. He also supported bills that will help combat the crisis, including House Bill 791 which imposes a mandatory two years of jail time, a $50,000 fine, or both, for anyone convicted of selling fentanyl in Montana, and Senate Bill 67 which revises drugs scheduled for Schedule I, Schedule II, Schedule III, Schedule IV, and Schedule V controlled substances and provides updates to each listed schedule, enabling more state-level prosecutions.

In addition to increasing the number of Montana Department of Justice narcotics and major case agents, Attorney General Knudsen has added a statewide drug intelligence officer who assists local law enforcement and public health agencies and spearheaded a grant program that helped deploy two dozen drug detecting K9s across the state.

Additionally, Attorney General Knudsen continues to hold the federal government accountable for their role in the fentanyl crisis. Earlier this year, he testified in a U.S. House of Representatives impeachment hearing against Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas for his failure to enforce federal immigration law and properly secure the southern border.

Attorney General Knudsen has also called on the Biden to designate drug cartels as terrorist organizations and classify fentanyl as a weapon of mass destruction.