The good news is local law enforcement stopped the arrival of $900,000 of fentanyl into the Verde Valley late last month.
That’s enough, said Cottonwood Police Chief Steve Gesell, “conservatively … to kill more than a half a million people.”
So, let’s count ourselves lucky the Cottonwood-Camp Verde drug interdiction patrol that night just happened to pull over the right car.
As explained by veteran Cottonwood officer Monica Kuhlt, luck has a lot to do with it. “In law enforcement, we say sometimes it’s the police who get lucky. Sometimes it’s the criminals who get lucky.”
What’s most scary about this massive drug bust is not what was prevented from entering the Verde Valley that night, but what actually gets through at other times.
Kuhlt said Cottonwood PD combines with other area agencies about once a month to do such highway drug interdictions … “depending on manpower.”
On top of that, she explained, police don’t have much discretion over which vehicles they do pull over during such operations. There’s this thing called probable cause. Police have to have a legitimate, legal reason to stop someone.
In this particular case, “It’s not often we get a gift like this,” said Kuhlt. “A broken windshield, expired registration tag, and one of the guys jumping out of the car and running.”
Typically, when stopping a vehicle for a traffic or equipment violation, Kuhlt said the best hope an officer has in detecting and thwarting a drug-running operation is through thorough police training. “It takes a motivated officer with great communication skills and attention to detail to ferret out the drug traffickers,” she said.
Yes, she admitted, while there is nothing better than arresting someone with $900,000 worth of illegal fentanyl, it constantly gnaws at officers about what is getting through. It’s not like police can do drug interdiction patrols every night of the week, and the courts do not allow police to do drug-running checkpoints as is allowed to catch drunken drivers.
As for the chief’s claim that this bust confiscated enough fentanyl to kill more than a half a million people, he is not peddling cop-talk hyperbole. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, fentanyl is the drug involved in the most fatal overdoses in the U.S., with fatalities from synthetic opioids including fentanyl jumping more than 45 percent from 2016 to 2017, when they accounted for some 28,000 of about 70,000 overdose deaths.
As reported by The Daily Courier in Prescott, “On average, in each year from 2013 to 2016, the rate of overdose deaths from fentanyl increased by about 113 percent each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A December 2018 CDC report states that fentanyl was responsible for 29 percent of all overdose deaths in 2016, up from only 4 percent in 2011 … Locally, at least 40 people from Yavapai County died from opioid-related overdoses in early 2018, and three young men died locally from fentanyl.”
All that, and curbing the supply of this scourge into the Verde Valley largely boils down to a stroke for luck for a law officer.
Obviously, we all need to hope for a little luck.