Southwest North Dakota sees surge in fentanyl usage

Narcotics Task Force confirms rise in synthetic opioids and marijuana, with no changes in Methamphetamine prevelance.

Chris Kimmerle with the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation presents the Southwest Narcotics Task Force yearly report to city commission members on Tuesday May 2.
Allison Engstrom / The Dickinson Press

DICKINSON — The Southwest Narcotics Task Force (SWNTF) has had a busy year, seizing nearly 65 pounds of drugs and over 1900 units of pills, including the deadly drug fentanyl, across southwest North Dakota. The task force's report, presented at a city commission meeting on Tuesday, May 2, highlighted the upsurge in fentanyl usage, methamphetamine, and overdoses in the community.

Chris Kimmerle with the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation presented the report to commission members explaining while the task force initiated 122 drug-related cases, resulting in 38 arrests, fentanyl continues to pose a "huge" issue, overtaking methamphetamine in Dickinson. With potentially fatal outcomes for each dosage unit, the administration of Narcan has prevented additional fatalities, however, four lives were lost due to overdoses.

The Dickinson Police Department partners with the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation and other area agencies to sustain the task force where specially trained agents conduct counter-drug operations in an effort to maintain a high quality of life within communities across southwest North Dakota.

SWNTF aims to identify, arrest, and prosecute mid to high-level drug traffickers bringing harmful substances like heroin and fentanyl into the community according to the SWNTF website.

The task force initiated 122 drug-related cases over the last year resulting in 38 arrests throughout their service areas which include Dickinson, Belfield and Medora and counties including Adams, Billings, Dunn, Golden Valley, Hettinger, Slope and Stark.


In these areas, Methamphetamine continues to be one of the most prevalent drugs that the task force has dealt with over the last year Kimmerle said.

“We saw more than we have ever seen before last year,” Kimmerle said.

Within the community, the task force confiscated over 7 pounds of methamphetamine in 2022, as compared to about 5.7 pounds in 2021.

However, fentanyl is presenting itself as a “huge” issue particularly in Dickinson, one that is beginning to overtake methamphetamine Kimmerle said.

“We continue to see more and more fentanyl come into our area,” Kimmerle said.

1559 units of fentanyl or 15,590 individual dosage units were seized by SWNTF a 60% increase from 2021, with each dosage unit containing a potentially fatal outcome according to the report.

Like many areas across the country, as southwest North Dakota continues to experience a rise in drug-related cases involving opioids like fentanyl, many cases ultimately result in overdoses.

Fentanyl and its derivatives were the leading drugs causing overdoses throughout the region, and while the administration of Narcan by responding officers prevented additional fatalities, southwest North Dakota did not remain unscathed.


Ultimately 4 lives were lost in the southwest region due to overdoses, with 29 cases requiring hospitalization though the specific drug that induced the overdose was not included in the report.

Marijuana continued to play a large role in the amount of drugs seized by the task force.

“We continue to see an increasing amount of marijuana especially as the states around us continue to legalize it recreationally,” Kimmerle said.

The team seized nearly 57 pounds of marijuana, all of which were trafficked into the area and in every instance included additional illicit substances or violent offenses according to Kimmerle.

Going into 2023 SWNTF is equipped with an experienced group of agents who will continue to target drug trafficking organizations throughout the region as they strive to deliver the highest standard of assistance to area agencies as well as the community they serve as indicated in their report.

Allison is a news reporter from Phoenix, Arizona where she earned a degree in journalism from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. After college, she worked as a middle school writing teacher in the valley. She has made her way around the U.S. driving from Arizona to Minnesota and eventually finding herself here in Dickinson. She has a passion for storytelling and enjoys covering community news.
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