NE: Drug overdose taskforce making dent in fentanyl deaths in the Omaha area

As fentanyl cases surge nationwide, cities everywhere are trying to keep up with the growing number of investigations.

In Omaha, law enforcement at multiple levels decided the cases were piling up, and they needed to work together to put a dent in them.


Omaha police Lt. Steve Fornoff says a new, deadly drug began to creep into the metro around 2016.

“We started to see year after year from about the beginning of 2016, a steady increase in our overdoses,” Fornoff said.

At that time, narcotics officers were unfamiliar with fentanyl in the metro.

Labs weren’t testing for it. But overdoses were skyrocketing.

“Within 2016 to 2022, we doubled our numbers and people passing away the people that are overdosing and showing how much of an impact it’s having on this community,” Fornoff said.

Fornoff said when fentanyl first hit Omaha’s streets, 4 out of 10 pills would contain a deadly dose — now, it’s increased to 6 out of 10.

And the Midwest is the perfect target.

“With Omaha being basically the center of I-80 and I-29, it makes it a prime location for these drugs to come up here and then be redistributed throughout the country,” Fornoff said.

Fornoff said homicide detectives would work death investigations but lacked experience narcotics officers have in drug networks.

So, an idea was hatched.

“Each year, that number kept progressing. And the investigations that were going into those incidents kept growing and growing to the point where we needed assistance from our federal partners,” Fornoff said.

A drug overdose task force was formed with the Drug Enforcement Administration, Omaha police detectives, the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, the Nebraska State Patrol and federal prosecutors.

“With the DEA and forming the task force, we had more resources available to us that that we didn’t have before,” Fornoff said.

The investigations allow officers to trace each deadly dose beyond borders.

“We’ll target the dealer, start going to their suppliers and their suppliers all the way back to Mexico,” Fornoff said.

DEA special agent in charge Justin King said the task force has seen results since its inception in September.

“From the inception of the task force, we’ve opened up 25 investigations. And by looking at over 15 arrests in that amount of time and with ten of those tied to deaths of drug poisonings,” King said.

King said each agency is able to marry its expertise and track dealers.

“As the investigations grow, what happens is we start to see our investigators really move at a faster pace,” King said.

Along with convictions, the task force is taking deadly doses off the streets.

“We’ve seized over 105 lethal doses of what we consider a lethal dose, that’s either a pill or a powder form just with this task force,” King said.

King said the task force is making a name for itself.

“People are starting to run scared, and they know that people are being held accountable,” King said.

For the investigators, it’s a cat-and-mouse game to outsmart those looking to do harm.

“They really were targeting our younger population more and more. They were really wanting to get the kids out there to start using it because they figured they would be addicted longer,” Fornoff said.

But the targeted task force is expanding its reach, with the hope of stopping the drugs before ever getting to the metro.

“That addiction is just so strong, they’re still going out and buying the counterfeit drugs, hoping that they they can get their fix without passing away, without dying,” Fornoff said.

Because they know for every overdose investigation launched, it’s a family with a loved one lost.

“I’ve seen the destruction it does to families. It just destroys and if I can do anything to save a family from going through that or even giving them some closure if they have gone through it, I’ll do that,” Fornoff said.

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Tags: Opioid Crisis

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