THE FENTANYL FALLOUT: Former Drug Dealer Sounds Alarm on Illegal Fentanyl Pouring into State

Police say cartel presence “real threat” in Wyoming communities as overdoses quadruple

By Jennifer Kocher

Special to the Wyoming Truth

This is the first story in a series addressing the ongoing problem of fentanyl and other illicit drugs spreading throughout Wyoming communities.

NORTHEAST, Wyo. ­– It smelled like death.

That was his first thought when he realized someone had laced his methamphetamine with illicit fentanyl. The former drug dealer had been smoking it with a friend when he had the heart-stopping realization that he’d just ingested fentanyl. It immediately made him vomit, and it was the first time anyone had tampered with his drugs.

That was over a year ago. Today, he is in his early 40s, and for the first time in decades, he is clean. He told his story to the Wyoming Truth on the condition of anonymity; he fears his identity would place him in mortal danger. His drug dealing past were confirmed independently through court records.

The Drug Enforcement Agency has labeled fentanyl the deadliest drug threat facing the country and the most highly addictive synthetic opioid, which is 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine. (Courtesy photo from the Drug Enforcement Agency)

At one point, he said he had been a major dealer in the drug world in northeast Wyoming, primarily selling meth and marijuana. He was high up on the chain when records confirm he was arrested in the early 2010s for a two-count possession of a controlled substance. Rather than reveal his suppliers, he went to prison for six years. This was where he’d first heard about fentanyl. By the time he got out of prison in 2020, it was everywhere. 

“This s— is pouring into this community,” he said, “and I’ve seen firsthand how sick it’s making people.”

More: Fentanyl is one of the leading causes of overdose deaths in the United States, which is experiencing the worst drug crisis in its history, with a record of over 100,000 deaths in the past year 

The fentanyl threat was one of the reasons he said he turned his back on drugs and dealing in general. The other: He no longer wants any part of that world.

He still refuses to name names or cite his own source for the drugs. But he said he feels compelled to share his story exclusively with the Wyoming Truth out of concern for the onslaught of fentanyl that is coming into northeast Wyoming and destroying so many lives.

In the past five years, 410 Wyoming residents died from drug overdoses, according to state health department data, with about 63% of deaths ­involving prescription opioids. Between 2018 and 2021, the number of deaths from synthetic opioids more than quadrupled, a 320% increase. 

“The withdrawals are worse than heroin,” he said about fentanyl, stubbing his cigarette against the concrete steps where he sat during a work break in late November. “I couldn’t take seeing what it is doing to people.” 

Fentanyl pouring into Wyoming communities

State and federal law enforcement agencies – along with Gov. Mark Gordon and the Wyoming Department of Health – have issued warnings about the escalating problem of illicit synthetic opioids in communities across the state, as well as soaring overdose deaths resulting from drugs laced with fentanyl. 

Increasingly, the United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) is finding fentanyl in drugs from illicit opioids masquerading as prescription pills to cocaine, marijuana, heroin and methamphetamine. The deadliness of fentanyl—cheap to buy on the streets and far more powerful than other opioids—prompted the agency to release a public safety alert on Nov. 21, warning that six out of every 10 fentanyl-laced prescription pills tested in its lab in 2022 contained a lethal dose of fentanyl. This is an upgrade from the DEA’s 2021 warning that four out of 10 pills tested were potentially deadly. 

“Fentanyl remains the deadliest drug threat facing this country,” the DEA said in its statement. “It is a highly addictive synthetic opioid that is 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine.”

Just two milligrams of fentanyl, which is the size of a tip of a pin, can cause death, the agency said.


Cartel activity in communities

The former drug dealer said he dealt in high volumes of meth and got addicted to it 14 years ago in the southwestern part of the United States where he grew up.

He said he started dealing small “dime” bags of marijuana in his late teens. By the time he turned 20, he was selling pounds of  marijuana each week. When he lost his manual labor job in the Southwest as a result of his drug habit and dealings, he moved to northeast Wyoming to work in the oil field. He stayed clean for a couple years while bouncing between the Southwest and Wyoming. 

At a party in his home state in 2006, someone he knew well turned him on to cocaine. He was  quickly hooked and His life nose-dived, as he and his then-girlfriend started dealing and consuming more than they could afford. At the height of his dealing, he said he was selling pure cocaine for upwards of $100 a gram—a steep price for that time period.

It was in the Southwest in 2008 when he was introduced to crystal meth, a highly addictive man-made, synthetic stimulant resembling small glass fragments or shiny, blue-white “rocks” that can be smoked through glass pipes.

“It was pure blue. The first time I’d ever seen it,” he recalled. “At first, I said I couldn’t do it. I thought, ‘That’s what junkies do.’ But then I tried it and that was all it took.”

Less than six months later, he was back in Wyoming, where he dealt meth until he got caught and went to prison. There, he met other dealers. And once he was released, he briefly returned to dealing drugs, leveraging the connections he’d made while behind bars.

He said he stopped dealing when he began to hear his name being mentioned over and over in illicit drug circles. His tipping point: getting robbed at gunpoint and climbing through a window at a house to escape his assailant. He checked himself into a treatment facility—and turned his back on a life of crime and addiction.

“There was no good way out,” the former drug dealer said. He was looking at a lengthy prison sentence if he got arrested a second time.  

Also motivating him was that his girlfriend was expecting the couple’s first child. He wanted more for himself and his family.

Check back tomorrow for part two.

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