ST. GEORGE, Utah (ABC4) – Over the last five years, Utah has seen a dramatic increase in the amount of fentanyl and cocaine being seized. The majority of these illegal drugs are making their way into the state via I-15, and it is taking a toll on first responders as they deal with arrests and repeat offenders.

According to reports from the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (RMHIDTA), in 2022 Utah saw a 526% increase in the amount of fentanyl seized across the state, combined with an over 600% increase in the amount of cocaine being seized.

This is causing a lot of concern for law enforcement agencies across the state and in particular Southern Utah Police departments. First responders deal with not only drug seizures but the unfortunate number of overdoses that happen with the presence of the drug.

“It’s a significant increase, it is something to be worried about and be aware of,” said Tiffany Mitchell, public information officer for the St. George Police Department. “It is taxing on everyone that responds to these cases over and over again. Where they overdose, we save their life, and it turns around and starts over again. You take that and it gets more and more per year. It gets taxing for everyone; for the family, for the people at the hospital, for the first responders.”

Nearly 60% of overdoses in 2022 were in St. George. The drug is easy and cheap to produce and according to reports, it doesn’t take a large amount to get the effect the drug offers. This is a contributing factor to the number of overdoses first responders are encountering and they are staggered by the numbers themselves.

“In a 20-something-year career, in the first half of it not being able to recall any to having some very vivid memories of a number of them over the last 10 years,” said Michael Gross, Chief of the Apple Valley Fire Department.

He says it doesn’t get any easier even with the increase in numbers but responders learn to put the work aside at the end of the shift, but it still can take an emotional toll. For responders, there is help to work through the difficult calls. They have programs in place and they can always rely on their co-workers.

“There are some scenes that are more difficult than others, that stick with you longer and each person has their triggers that are going to bring back memories,” said Gross. “If we have a traumatic event we can call in counselors. Your co-workers, your other people that are on the scene that you can communicate with about what you saw, and then how to deal with it. It is a big benefit that we have because the fire service and medical and police are all concerned about each other. If there is an incident that is traumatic on our side of it then we have a network of people that are there to support us.”