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Police say Natrona County ‘awash in fentanyl’ as multiple cases move through courts

In a first for the agency, the Wyoming Highway Patrol trained a handler and narcotic sniffing dog to detect Fentanyl last week. (WHP)

CASPER, Wyo. — Like much of the country, Natrona County is seeing a surge in the synthetic opioid fentanyl, with court charges and overdoses on the rise, according to law enforcement.

“We are awash in fentanyl,” Casper Police Lieutenant Scott Jones told Oil City on Tuesday. Police encounter the drug “not daily, but multiple times a day,” Jones said.

The drug is 50 times more potent than heroin, according to the CDC, and is highly addictive.

Of particular concern is the effect on users who combine the drug with the stimulant methamphetamine.

“They battle each other inside the human body,” Jones said. Users under the influence of this potent cocktail exhibit behaviors similar to those under the influence of hallucinogens, Jones said. They have been found wandering in traffic and incoherent. They may disrobe due to overheating.

Jones said one user had driven into Casper under the influence to pick up someone who did not exist. 

One married couple would take turns using fentanyl while the other stood by with NARCAN, an opioid antagonist, to revive their spouse from an overdose. The couple also had children, Jones added.

The cartels that illegally manufacture the drug may cut it with ibuprofen or other drugs, Jones said. There is no sure way for users to know the potency of the drug they are getting.

Law enforcement have a similar problem when pills or powders are encountered in the field. In its purest forms, fentanyl exposure through the skin or lungs can lead to serious illness or death. The drug is often found in homes where children are present, Jones said.

The drug’s euphoric effects diminish with repeated use, and users need more and more to maintain the high. They turn to auto burglary and theft to feed the habit, Jones said.

Last Friday, Wyoming DCI and Wyoming Highway Patrol intercepted a vehicle returning to Natrona County from Denver as part of an investigation into fentanyl distribution in Natrona County.

Matthew Maczuga and Kiley Fournier, both 29, were each charged with three felonies: conspiracy to deliver, possession with intent to deliver, and possession of fentanyl in a felony amount. 

DCI agents say they found 115 blue pills of suspected fentanyl, weighing over 14 grams, according to a charging document filed in Natrona County Circuit Court.

The investigation began in July. Agents said Maczuga arrived in a white Jeep to a controlled purchase with a known but unnamed distributor as a passenger. Agents said the suspects collected the buy funds but not return to complete the transaction.

A confidential source told DCI that Maczuga would routinely travel to Colorado to purchase large quantities of fentanyl from a known but unnamed source of supply.

Agents applied for a circuit court warrant in order to attach a GPS tracker to the Maczuga’s vehicle, which travelled to multiple residences in Casper known to use or distribute controlled substances, agents said. On Thursday, the vehicle travelled to Denner overnight, returning to Natrona County in the early morning hours on Friday, July 29.

Based on interviews with Maczuga, agents believe he had purchased up to 2,000 fentanyl tablets at a time from the Colorado source.

Two California residents also face nine felony counts each in District Court following a July 20 traffic stop on Highway 220 south of Paradise Valley, which yielded 2 pounds of suspected fentanyl, among other drugs, according to Wyoming Highway Patrol.

Following the arraignment of Maczuga and Fournier on Monday, Assistant District Attorney Jared Holbrook told Oil City that Wyoming DCI efforts are focused on getting as much fentanyl as possible off the streets.