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U.S. attorney: Prosecution of opioid cases soars in North Dakota

U.S. Attorney Chris Myers speaks during the Eyes Wide Open forum on the growing opiate abuse crisis on Thursday, May 5, 2016, at West Fargo High School. Rick Abbott / The Forum1 / 2
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FARGO — In the past two years, 37 people have been charged or sentenced in federal court in North Dakota for crimes involving heroin or fentanyl. That's more cases than in the previous 10 years combined, according to Chris Myers, North Dakota's U.S. attorney.

"We are aggressively targeting opiate traffickers whose product causes serious bodily harm or death," Myers said in a news release Tuesday, June 13, explaining the jump in prosecuted cases.

"Second," he added, "with the introduction of substances like fentanyl, carfentanil, and their analogues into the local drug market, the level of risk to users, or even those people inadvertently exposed, has increased dramatically.

"Finally, the opiate epidemic is a healthcare crisis in North Dakota, as well as across the United States. With so many people addicted to these substances, the demand created makes it a lucrative endeavor for drug trafficking organizations," Myers said.

In the release, Alex Khu, special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigation in St. Paul, said synthetic opioids like fentanyl and carfentanil "are exponentially more dangerous than heroin, and are so hazardous that even law enforcement must take special precautions during arrests."

"These are dangerous substances that destroy everything they touch, tear apart lives, and ruin communities," Khu said.

In North Dakota, the number of deaths blamed on drug overdoses spiked from 20 in 2013 to 61 in 2015, according to the state Prevention Resource and Media Center.