Fentanyl seizure highlights advance of drug

Aug. 25—The seizure of more than 200 pills of fentanyl Monday by Lewiston police highlighted a recent alert from the Nez Perce Tribe about the increasing use of the deadly opiate on its Idaho reservation.

Police arrested Nicolle C. Sutherland, 29, of Richland, for allegedly possessing heroin and methamphetamine in addition to the fentanyl. The arrest came after an investigation earlier Monday into the theft of a catalytic converter from a Lewiston transit bus led to the arrest of Kyle L. Maplethorpe, 36, of Kennewick.

Sutherland and Maplethorpe made initial appearances via Zoom from the Nez Perce County jail Tuesday before Magistrate Judge Karin Seubert. Sutherland was charged with three felony counts of possession of a controlled substance with a persistent violator enhancement that could carry a sentence of life in prison if she is convicted. Maplethorpe was charged with a single felony count of grand theft, which carries a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

Seubert set bond at $15,000 for each defendant and appointed public defenders to represent them in court. She set a Sept. 8 preliminary hearing for Sutherland and a Sept. 1 preliminary hearing for Maplethorpe.

According to police, the alleged fentanyl pills the officers recovered from Maplethorpe's vehicle, in which Sutherland was a passenger, matched the description of the "Mexican Oxy, Blues, or Blueberry" pills the Nez Perce Tribe recently declared a "public threat crisis." According to a post on the tribe's Facebook page, tribal police have recently seen a dramatic increase of fentanyl overdoses.

Officers on the reservation have had to administer multiple doses of the anti-overdose medication naloxone to revive people who have overdosed on the pills, according to the post.

"These pills are manufactured by Mexican cartels and transported into the United States," Lt. Daniel Taylor of the department's Criminal Investigation Division wrote in the post. "They are pressed pills with markings designed to mimic those of the legitimate prescription oxycodone hydrochloride 30 mg tablets, but instead of containing oxycodone hydrochloride these pills contain fentanyl."

Fentanyl is an opioid drug 100 times stronger than morphine that has contributed to thousands of overdoses and overdose deaths around the country over the last several years. According to Taylor, each pill can have a street value of $20, making their manufacture and distribution a lucrative illicit business. They are manufactured in clandestine laboratories with no quality control, so each pill can contain wildly varying dosages of the drug.

Taylor offered specific warnings about how to recognize the pills, and signs of their abuse. They can be swallowed, snorted or injected. But tribal police have discovered that smoking the vapors from melted pills has become an increasingly popular method of use, with detectives speaking to people who have smoked up to 20 pills per day. Smoking results in a rapid onset of effects, which encourages continued use and increases the risk of addiction, Taylor wrote.

Those who find a crushed, light-blue powder folded into a small paper envelope, plastic baggie or other small container should not touch it, smell it or cause the powder to become airborne to avoid accidental exposure, Taylor recommended. The substance should be left in place and police notified. Those with questions may call him at (208) 621-3653 or (208) 621-3619.

According to Lewiston police, investigators were able to identify a suspect vehicle in the catalytic converter theft via the use of surveillance video around the shop where the bus had been taken for maintenance. They located the 2020 Kia Optima with a yellow New York license plate around 7 p.m. Monday and established probable cause to seize the vehicle and apply for a search warrant, according to police.

Tools and evidence were allegedly found inside the vehicle, including four catalytic converters. Officers also allegedly located the 200 fentanyl pills inside the vehicle. During subsequent contact with Sutherland and Maplethorpe at their Lewiston motel room, police allegedly located 1.2 grams of heroin, 10.4 grams of methamphetamine and 38 more fentanyl pills.

Police are asking local businesses and residents to check their vehicles for missing catalytic converters and call (208) 746-0171 if they have any information that would assist the case.

Mills may be contacted at jmills@lmtribune.com or at (208) 310-1901, ext. 2266.