Today’s drug trade is imposing unprecedented new burdens on small-town law enforcement. One Superior, Wi., officer, made an eight-hour drive to pursue a Chicagoan who he believed had traveled to Superior to sell large quantities of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid up to 50 times as potent as heroin, reports the Wall Street Journal. Fentanyl is exacerbating the problem of drugs in small towns. Police, forensic labs, and prosecutors are struggling to identify and safely intercept new narcotics that can sicken or kill anyone who handles them, and to combat trafficking networks that sometimes extend many hours away. Death rates from overdoses are higher in rural areas than in big cities, reversing a historical trend.
“It’s hard to imagine how it could have gotten worse than the heroin we were dealing with,” says Brad Schimel, Wisconsin’s Attorney General. “The fentanyl has taken this to a new level.” The big-city dealers who bring fentanyl-laced heroin to the upper Midwest dip in and out of town, often recruiting local addicts to help them hide or sell drugs, making them tougher to catch. In Superior, Wi., and Duluth, Mn., separated by a small bay at the end of Lake Superior, the business is seriously taxing local law enforcement. “They’re using more and more middle people to distance themselves from the sale,” says Duluth police Lt. Jeffrey Kazel, commander of a tri-county task force.