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Local, state, federal agencies form Utah Drug Overdose Task Force

By Ryan Aston - | Apr 5, 2024

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Law enforcement agencies in the Weber-Davis area have joined with others around the Wasatch Front, as well as federal agencies, to form a task force amid the fight against what has been described as an opioid epidemic in Utah.

Representatives from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Utah and the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Rocky Mountain Field Division announced the formation of the Utah Drug Overdose Task Force on Friday.

Per a press release, the task force is made up of the DEA, U.S. Attorney’s Office, Salt Lake City Police Department, Unified Police Department/Salt Lake City Sheriff’s Office, Layton City Police Department, Sandy City Police Department, Ogden City Police Department, Davis County Sheriff’s Office, South Jordan Police Department and Homeland Security Investigations.

Taylor West, chief deputy of law enforcement at the Davis County Sheriff’s Office, told the Standard-Examiner that this task force differs from others his department has been involved with.

“Usually, when we’re involved in a narcotics task force, we’re dealing with user levels, working our way up to more complex criminal organizations. So, someone who suffers from substance use disorder, we would work them up. In other words, let’s find their dealer and let’s find that person’s dealer and let’s find that person’s dealer,” West said. “But this focuses on the dealers.”

The task force’s goal is to raise awareness and increase the number of prosecutable cases through proper evidence collection and preservation. To that end, officers from local departments who respond to overdose calls will receive training on how to better approach investigations.

“That’s really where we lose these cases,” West said. “A patrol officer shows up, it’s an overdose, we get that. The person has passed away, so there’s really nothing for us to pull up on local law enforcement, traditionally.

“Now, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the DEA are providing training to those line-level deputies and officers, so that they can investigate those deaths on scene with an eye towards a federal prosecution to the distributors at a later date. ”

West made reference to the recent sentencing of Colin Andrew Shapard, who in December pleaded guilty to distribution of a controlled substance resulting in serious bodily injury. A Friday release noted that fentanyl shipped by Shapard via U.S. Mail nearly killed a Park City resident after the man overdosed in 2022.

Shapard was sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment, followed by 36 months of supervised release.

According to the most recent data available on the Utah Department of Health & Human Services’ “Stop the Opidemic” website, 603 Utahns died of a drug overdose in 2021. Sixty-seven percent of those deaths were opioid-related, with 29% being related to fentanyl specifically.

“When I worked narcotics 15 years ago, the users that I dealt with had track marks on their arms and needle sets and rigs and burnt spoons and tinfoil,” West said. “Well now, it looks like a pill. … It’s much easier for someone to say, ‘Oh, I’m not putting a needle in my arm, it can’t be bad for me. My parents take pills, I take pills, it’s just a pill.’ Even though it’s synthetic; made in some lab somewhere using fentanyl.”

While the announcement of the task force was just made, West indicated that it has been in the works for several months. He further noted that the training rollout to his department’s deputies is expected to be completed by the fall.


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