Unpacking the Economic Dynamics of Fentanyl

The emergence of fentanyl as a deadly drug threat has placed Montana at the forefront of trafficking activities, driven by the staggering profit margins associated with this potent substance. With just a two-milligram dose capable of proving lethal, the economic allure for traffickers is immense. A kilogram of fentanyl, which can potentially result in the deaths of up to 500,000 individuals, can be produced in Mexico for a mere $8,000. However, the resale value of the resulting 500,000 pills in Montana is exponentially higher, making it a prime target for drug traffickers.

David Olesky, acting special agent of the DEA Rocky Mountain Division, elucidates the stark reality: “They’re looking at citizens of Montana as future customers.” This perspective underscores the ruthless calculus of drug cartels, which view the potential profits as worth the risk of infiltrating new markets. Olesky’s experience in combating drug trafficking spans over two decades, yet he acknowledges that the fentanyl crisis hits closer to home than ever before. Carol Keenan tragically lost her daughter, Mary Kate, to a fentanyl overdose eight years ago, long before the drug gained widespread notoriety. The escalation of fentanyl-related deaths in Montana from four in 2017 to 80 in the past year starkly illustrates the severity of the crisis.

The accessibility of fentanyl in trafficking corridors such as Billings exacerbates the problem, with prices soaring to $60-80 per pill, a drastic contrast to the $1 price tag in neighboring markets. Cesar Avila, Resident Agent in Charge of the DEA Rocky Mountain Division, notes the disparity in prices, particularly on reservations where pills can fetch $10-15 each. This lucrative market entices traffickers seeking to maximize profit margins, leading to an influx of fentanyl into Montana communities.

Avila attests to the visible impact of drugs on the local community, dispelling misconceptions about the severity of the crisis. The deceptive nature of fentanyl pills, often disguised as Oxycodone, further complicates the situation, contributing to tragic incidents of accidental overdoses. Avila recounts a heart-wrenching anecdote of a boyfriend unknowingly administering a fatal dose of fentanyl to his girlfriend, resulting in her death and his subsequent suicide.

Despite the grim reality depicted by these narratives, Keenan remains hopeful for a better future: “I hope in five years it’ll be better.” However, the urgency of addressing the fentanyl epidemic cannot be overstated. As the toll of fentanyl-related deaths continues to rise, there is an imperative for concerted efforts to combat trafficking and mitigate the devastating consequences faced by individuals and communities alike.

By: Montana Newsroom staff