NEAH BAY — The Makah Tribal Police Department is warning the public that officers believe they found fentanyl-laced marijuana during a recent arrest.
Jasper Bruner, Makah public safety director and police chief, said that when officers field-tested seized marijuana Friday, the test was positive for fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that can be 50 times stronger than heroin, according to CNN.
“We’re thinking there could be more,” Bruner said. “That’s why we put out the public notice. We don’t want anybody exposed to that.”
That notice was widely circulated locally on Facebook over the weekend.
Bruner said the marijuana would be retested at the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab.
Officials at other agencies said they had never seen any confirmed reports of fentanyl-laced marijuana in the region or Pacific Northwest.
Though marijuana is legal in Washington state, it is still illegal on the reservation, which operates under federal law.
Bruner wouldn’t name the person who was arrested, but said the person is facing tribal charges.
The Drug Enforcement Agency Seattle Field Division — which covers Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska — has not seized any fentanyl-laced marijuana.
“I can tell you we have had an increase in fentanyl seizures in the last year in the Pacific Northwest,” Jodie Underwood, spokeswoman for the Seattle Field Division, said in an email. “We [the DEA] issued nationwide alerts … because exposure to an amount equivalent to a few grains of sand can result in death.”
She was unaware of any other agencies in the region confirming fentanyl-laced marijuana.
Clallam County Sheriff Bill Benedict questioned whether the sample that was tested could have been contaminated.
Benedict also questioned why someone would lace marijuana with fentanyl.
“Most marijuana should come from approved stores,” he said. “You’d be an idiot to buy marijuana on the street.”
Port Townsend police also said they had not seen any fentanyl-laced marijuana.
Clallam County Health Officer Dr. Chris Frank said that so far, fentanyl has not been too common on the Olympic Peninsula, though it has been associated with deaths along the Interstate 5 corridor within the past year.
“Obviously if this is confirmed, it would be concerning,” Frank said. “It’s not only dangerous to the person with the substance use disorder, but it’s also dangerous for first responders.
“Thankfully we’ve been sheltered by our geography.”
Frank said that if fentanyl is in the county, it likely would be detected early because of the county’s mandatory overdose reporting.
“One of the advantages of having overdose reporting is if we do see a cluster of overdoses, we can test … for common sources,” he said.
The county has seen a 50 percent decrease in overdoses since 2016.
In the first quarter of 2016, there were 20 reported overdoses, while in the first quarter of 2017, there were nine overdoses.
Nineteen overdoses were reported in the first half of 2017.
Bruner also said he has not seen an increase in overdoses in Neah Bay.
Efforts to reach the Port Angeles Police Department and Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office were unsuccessful Wednesday.
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.