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The fentanyl crisis in Idaho Falls ‘just keeps coming for us’

The fentanyl town hall, held by Eastern Idaho Public Health and the Region 7 Behavioral Health Board. | Kaitlyn Hart,
IDAHO FALLS – A “weapon of mass destruction” in the community was the topic of a crowded town hall on Tuesday.
Eastern Idaho Public Health and the Region 7 Behavioral Health Board held the event to address the fentanyl and opioid crises in our area, focusing on how these drugs can affect everyone, even you.
Many local addiction and recovery centers hosted booths to educate the public on the many resources available to the community for those experiencing drug addiction.
“The reason why fentanyl is so scary is because the lethal dose that could potentially kill someone is 2 milligrams. Think of the tip of a pen.”
Organizations like Soldiers for Hope, Brick House Recovery, The Center for Hope, The Oxford House, Rehabilitative Health Services, the Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office, Eastern Idaho Public Health and the Idaho Law Enforcement Diversion were all in attendance, speaking with the public about their mission to help stop the opioid crisis.
A panel of health professionals, law enforcement, EMS, and people experienced with recovery spoke to the crowded venue about the dangers of these drugs circulating in our community.
Mallory Johnson, health education specialist for Eastern Idaho Public Health, discussed the specifics of the drugs in our area. She said an almost undetectable amount of fentanyl can be deadly.
“The reason why fentanyl is so scary is because the lethal dose that could potentially kill someone is 2 milligrams,” said Johnson. “Think of the tip of a pen.”
Johnson explained that Idaho Falls is no different from other cities where drug overdoses continue to claim the lives of our community members.
“Why does this matter? Why are we all sitting here tonight and taking time out of our night to be here?” asked Johnson. “In 2022, there were 361 overdose deaths. In 2023, we’ve already had 51 drug overdose deaths.”

The panel at the fentanyl town hall event. | Kaitlyn Hart,
According to statistics provided by Johnson, six out of every 10 fentanyl pills are potentially lethal.
Bonneville County Sheriff Samuel Hulse spoke next, apologizing to the crowd that we even have to gather to speak about something as horrible as fentanyl overdosing.
“I wish we didn’t have to do this,” said Hulse. “Just when I thought it couldn’t get worse, it does. It just keeps coming for us.”
“I can’t even keep this out of my jail.”
Hulse told the audience that drugs like fentanyl get into our community through the United States’ southern borders, due to Mexican cartels trying to create a more potent drug allowing for longer highs.
“There’s a huge push out there to make a stronger drug that makes a better high,” said Hulse. “No matter what measures we put in place, the cartels are going to continue to go around it. They have power and a lot of money. The cartels produce the supply, but what is the demand of our society?”
According to Hulse, four Bonneville County Jail inmates have experienced fentanyl overdoses – three during work release and one in the general population inside of the jail.
“I can’t even keep this out of my jail — that’s how incessant this is,” said Hulse. “There might be fentanyl in this room. There’s probably fentanyl across the street.”
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“We’re trending to have the same rate of deaths as we had in 2022, and that’s very concerning to us. But I think it would be higher if we didn’t have Narcan. Narcan is saving lives,” said Hulse. “We have lost the ability to keep this stuff (fentanyl) out, so now we need the people to be very responsible in communicating this to the youngest among us.”
Narcan is a medication designed to rapidly reverse an opioid overdose.
The sheriff’s office and IFPD seized about 3,580 illegal opioid pills in 2021. In 2022, they seized 11,800 of the pills, and already in 2023, that number is 102,288.
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Next to speak was Deputy Chief Jon Perry from the Idaho Falls Fire Department, who talked about a new program that aims to save more lives from being taken due to overdose, called the Naloxone Leave Behind Program. (Narcan is a brand name for naloxone.)
Perry said that first responders are given a kit filled with two doses of Narcan, information about drug addiction resources, and a CPR barrier shield.
The goal is to leave a kit with every person they might suspect could overdose on an opioid.
“This is a weapon of mass destruction. This is killing a lot of people. And for the Idaho Falls community, hopefully, we can make some positive change with events like tonight,” said Perry. “This program has really shed some light on the fact that we need to figure out how to distribute (more) Narcan to the community.”
Michelle Smoley, a recovery coach at The Center of Hope, told her story of a decade of addiction and how she was able to overcome it to begin helping others find happiness in recovery.
Smoley told the crowd that she was born to an alcoholic mother and drug-addicted father.
“I spent my entire life looking for love in all the wrong places,” said Smoley. “I was a sitting duck for Big Pharma.”
“If you’d handed me a pill and said it might kill me, it wouldn’t have stopped me.”
After a back injury in her early 20s, Smoley was prescribed opioids for the pain, eventually leading to her addiction.
When pharmacies began to tighten the access to how opioids could be sold, Smoley turned to heroin to cope with her chronic pain.
“I met the wrong person at the exact wrong time, and that’s when it was over for me. I was homeless, and I had lost everything within a year,” said Smoley. “Long story short, I didn’t need a bunch of felony charges to know I needed treatment. I know I did.”
After spending time in jail, Smoley was eventually sent to drug court, where she says she learned about addiction for essentially the first time.
“If you’d handed me a pill and said it might kill me, it wouldn’t have stopped me. It wouldn’t have stopped me at all,” said Smoley. “The risk of death would not have deterred me, and it clearly hasn’t deterred a lot of people. And that’s why Narcan is so important to have available to the community.”
Smoley is now dedicating her life to helping people recover from drug addictions and help them realize there is help in the community available to them, no matter the circumstances.
“At the end of the day, dead people can’t recover,” Smoley said. “But I did.”
The post The fentanyl crisis in Idaho Falls ‘just keeps coming for us’ appeared first on East Idaho News.

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