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Kansas Law Enforcement Agencies Seize Thousands of Counterfeit Pills in Fentanyl Crackdown

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By Rachel Mipro, Kansas Reflector

 

TOPEKA, Kan. — The Kansas Bureau of Investigation and Kansas Highway Patrol seized thousands of counterfeit pills containing fentanyl in the first large haul of a state team designed to combat the flow of the synthetic drug.

The Joint Fentanyl Impact Team, a collaboration between the two state organizations, announced Wednesday that a Monday investigation in Wichita unearthed about 25,000 counterfeit oxycodone pills.

“Pills containing fentanyl, like those taken off the streets this week, are causing extreme harm to our communities,” said KBI Director Tony Mattivi. “This seizure will likely prevent many poisoning deaths, but we still have much work to do.”

A 27-year-old Wichita man was detained and questioned on possession of the 11.5 pounds of pills. He was arrested on outstanding warrants and booked into Sedgwick County Jail, with fentanyl-related charges pending, officials said.

The task force, formed in June, is a part of Attorney General Kris Kobach’s plan to stop fentanyl. Shutting down fentanyl distribution was part of Kobach’s campaign last year when he won election as attorney general, in part by tying the issue of fentanyl trafficking to southern border security.

Kobach, who is known for hardline anti-immigration stances, has said he would focus on stopping drug cartels from bringing fentanyl across the southern border. A false narrative that migrants are smuggling fentanyl in through an “open border” has become increasingly prevalent, especially in the Republican Party, but research from National Public Radio found the vast majority of fentanyl is actually smuggled into the country through official ports of entry, concealed in cars and tractor-trailers.

A KBI spokeswoman didn’t immediately respond to an inquiry for this story about how the fentanyl seized on Monday had made its way to Wichita.

Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, is commonly mixed with drugs to create a more powerful high. In Kansas, rising overdose deaths have been fueled by counterfeit prescription drugs and illegal drugs containing fentanyl. Since the opioid isn’t detectable without a test strip, people taking fentanyl-laced drugs are at a greater risk of overdose.

Following a yearslong push, the 2023 Legislature passed Senate Bill 174, allowing people to legally test for fentanyl, ketamine and gamma-hydroxybutyric acid, also known as the date rape drug. Gov. Laura Kelly signed the bill.

The law also increased legal consequences for fentanyl manufacturing distribution, amending state law to make manufacture of a fentanyl-related controlled substance in pill or capsule form a drug severity level 1 felony and doubling the maximum duration of incarceration for manufacturing controlled substances containing fentanyl.

“I have made clear that the resources and energy of the KBI will be focused on the fentanyl threat. This seizure is a result of that focus, in cooperation with KHP,” Kobach said. “This is a significant victory for Kansas law enforcement in the battle against fentanyl. We will continue to escalate our efforts in the months ahead.”