In response to the alarming surge in fentanyl-related deaths, Kansas has taken steps to address the opioid crisis by launching a collaborative program known as the Joint Fentanyl Impact Team (JFIT).
Leading this initiative is the Kansas Bureau of Investigation (KBI), in partnership with various law enforcement agencies at the local, state and federal levels. The JFIT is aimed at targeting the trafficking of fentanyl, which has claimed the lives of over 1,400 individuals in the state.
According to Kansas officials, the highlight of the collaborative effort is the deployment of a specially trained K-9 unit, consisting of four highly skilled dogs and their dedicated KBI handlers. The canine unit represents the first of its kind in Kansas, focusing on investigations related to fentanyl transportation by road, rail, air and mail.
One of the talented dogs, Jiren, showed off his exceptional olfactory capabilities during a recent public demonstration, where he quickly identified a box containing the lethal substance.
KBI Director Tony Mattivi said the dogs are invaluable in the fight against fentanyl.
“Without the canines, we are flying blind when it comes to being able to detect fentanyl. We have to put ourselves in a better position to intercept the drugs that are being transported into our state. What we see coming with regard to fentanyl looks to me like a tidal wave,” Mattivi said.
The staggering impact of fentanyl-related deaths in Kansas became evident as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that in fiscal year 2022, 107,000 individuals died from drug poisoning, with two-thirds of these fatalities linked to synthetic opioids. Fentanyl, being 100 times more potent than morphine and 50 times more potent than heroin, has contributed significantly to this tragic toll.
To combat the crisis, the 2023 Kansas Legislature and Governor Laura Kelly enacted stricter criminal penalties for the manufacture or distribution of fentanyl. Additionally, the state lawmakers decriminalized the use of test strips that can detect the presence of the pharmaceutical substance.
Attorney General Kris Kobach, who advocated for the program during his 2022 campaign, expressed his confidence in the task force and the K-9 unit.
“Sounded like something that was not being done yet and sounded like something that had huge potential,” Kobach said. “I have no doubt that we’re going to see great success.”
Kansas Highway Patrol Superintendent Erik Smith, a former top U.S. Drug Enforcement Administrative official who was recently appointed by the governor to lead the agency, stressed the importance of raising awareness about the lethal nature of fentanyl.
“The Kansas Highway Patrol is committed to doing everything in our power to interdict this deadly poison before it hits your household and kills your loved ones,” he said.
Daniel Neill, representing the Midwest office of the High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) program, also shared his insight regarding fentanyl’s deadly impact on the community.
“In 2017, it was estimated there were 32 deaths in Kansas from synthetic opioids or fentanyl poisonings,” he said. “In 2021, it’s estimated there were 347 deaths. That’s an increase of over 984%. That’s way too many. That’s someone’s mother. That’s someone’s father. That’s someone’s cousin. That’s a friend. That’s a soccer teammate. And, if it seems like I’m angry about it, I am.”
Thanks to funding assistance from Midwest HIDTA and the Wichita Metro Commission, the KBI’s new K-9 unit has undergone rigorous training and certification, making it a formidable weapon in the fight against fentanyl trafficking.
While the new task force and its canine companions represent a significant step forward, KBI Director Mattivi acknowledged that more may be required in the future.
“This was the most we were able to do right now… we may be coming back and wanting more later… I can’t say that we won’t,” he said. “I wish I could tell you that what we’re doing is going to be enough… I fear that it’s not.”