The Skagit County Interlocal Drug Enforcement Unit seized about 300,000 counterfeit pills containing fentanyl in 2022, marking a significant increase from the 18,000 pills seized in 2021.
“We knew that fentanyl had become the dominant factor in terms of illicit drugs entering Skagit County,” said unit commander Tobin Meyer of the Skagit County Sheriff’s Office. “It didn’t come as a surprise that we would see a jump. What came as a surprise was the level of the jump.”
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration found that 42% of pills confiscated by the unit in 2022 contained lethal levels of fentanyl.
One of the unit’s biggest busts was in March when it arrested Santos E. Gutierrez Fosella and two co-conspirators.
According to the unit’s annual report, Gutierrez Fosella cut out his supplier and began making trips to Arizona to bring hundreds of thousands of counterfeit pills to Skagit County.
With the help of surveillance and criminal sources, police arrested Gutierrez Fosella and the two others in Mount Vernon after he returned from a trip to Arizona.
Detectives seized about 100,000 fentanyl-laced counterfeit pills, $18,000 in cash, five firearms and about 4 pounds of methamphetamine.
The three who were arrested have pleaded guilty and are scheduled to be sentenced in spring.
“Our role is really to disrupt and dismantle larger drug-trafficking organizations,” Meyer said. “We don’t focus on the end-user level. We focus on the mid- to upper-level drug trafficking organizations.”
Meyer said he is devoted to the unit’s purpose of saving lives and stopping drug distribution at its source.
“I think, collectively, we just need to understand the true impact that task forces can have at disrupting supply,” he said.
In 2019, the Skagit County Interlocal Drug Enforcement Unit and the FBI teamed up for what was called Operation Heatwave, which targeted a drug-trafficking group in the county.
According to the annual report, during the past three years the operation has resulted in the arrests of 31 criminal street gang members and associates. The operation concluded in October with what is believed to be the final arrest of the case.
Seized through that operation were 34 firearms, about a pound of cocaine, about 4½ pounds of heroin, about a pound of pure fentanyl powder, about 58 pounds of methamphetamine and about 100,000 counterfeit pills laced with fentanyl.
Meyer said these operations are only one part of curbing the distribution of drugs in Skagit County, and that there remains work to do.
“There’s a lot that can be done,” he said. “We are a holistic approach to addressing this epidemic and saving lives. Obviously, there’s an enforcement component to that. There is also an educational component to that. There is a health care component to that as well.”
The number of drug-related deaths in Skagit County has remained consistent during the past three years, with an average of 36 confirmed overdoses per year. The report, however, said that this number has the potential to grow due to the large number of counterfeit pills circulating.
Meyer said community members can stay safe and can support the efforts of authorities to keep drugs off the streets through education and by being aware of the dangers of pills being sold. “If you don’t know where it came from, don’t take it,” he said.