SPOKANE, Wash. — The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration launched a fight against fentanyl in Spokane on Tuesday. The DEA identified Spokane for the "Operation Engage" program specifically for the increased use of fentanyl in the area and the overdose deaths and drug violence that comes with it.
The fentanyl crisis is leaving a staggering number of deaths in its path. The Inland Northwest is not immune to this.
"Fentanyl is ravaging our community," Mayor Nadine Woodward said. "It is a danger to law enforcement and first responders, and it is ripping the hearts out of our families right here in our community."
This lethal drug took the life of Marsha Malsam's nephew when he overdosed in 2016.
"He had a quick wit and such a tender heart," Malsam said. "There's no way you couldn't have a smile on your face with Rayce around."
After graduating from Freeman High school, Rayce Rudeen moved to Seattle to pursue his career. Not long after that, his family noticed a change.
"The smile and the quick wit were gone," Malsam said. "The sparkle, soul and beautiful eyes are not there."
His family convinced him to get treatment for his drug addiction. Then, three months after he returned home, Rayce overdosed.
"Because of fentanyl, I no longer get to see my nephew's beautiful eyes and see his happy soul," she said. "Because of fentanyl, my brother does not have an older son."
Following his death, Rayce's family created a foundation in his name to prevent others from suffering the same loss.
"We are here to fight fentanyl," Malsam said.
On Tuesday, the foundation and Spokane leaders joined the fight against fentanyl with the DEA's launch of "Operation Engage."
The program takes a community-level approach to addressing this drug epidemic. It will support drug use prevention efforts in Spokane and bridge public safety and health efforts.
Spokane Police Chief Craig Meidl has seen fentanyl flood the Spokane community in recent years. Which is why he looks forward to partnering with the DEA.
"Our department has to say that every single pill that you get off the street is potentially a life that is saved," Chief Meidl said.
We asked the DEA how the community will see "Operation Engage" at work in Spokane. They say partners will focus on prevention among youth, adults, school engagement and a potential DEA Citizens Academy. But, specific actions to curb fentanyl use are still to be determined.