Massive Utah drug bust highlights magnitude of fentanyl supply pushed by cartels

Dec 14, 2023, 4:29 AM | Updated: 8:11 am

MOAB — A huge drug bust is shedding light on just how many dangerous pills are on Utah streets.

A remarkable 66 pounds of fentanyl pills were confiscated in a traffic stop in Grand County — just one of three drug busts KSL TV has reported on in the last week. Fentanyl, heroine and crack cocaine were found by police in Cottonwood Heights. In Kane County, police seized another 100,000 fentanyl tablets, approximately 20 pounds.

a pencil with power on the point

A lethal dose of fentanyl is displayed on the point of a pencil for size reference, according to the Drug Enforcement Association. (DEA)

Grand County Sheriff’s Office and the Drug Enforcement Administration report a massive spike in the fentanyl supply with cartels targeting younger and younger users.

“It’s crazy the numbers that are happening, I never thought we would see numbers like this,” said Grand County Sheriff Jamison Wiggins.

The latest bust is Grand County’s biggest fentanyl bust of the year.

K-9 Zora, the newest member of the Grand County Sheriff’s Office, was on the job for a few days before she sniffed out more than 120 pounds of drugs including 36 pounds of meth, 19 pounds of cocaine and 66.6 pounds of illicit fentanyl during a traffic stop on Monday.

Two in custody for possession of over 100 pounds of illegal drugs, police say

“That is the most fentanyl I have ever seen in my career located inside of a vehicle,” Wiggins said.

He said it takes a small amount to overdose on fentanyl.

The GCSO has a new major crimes task force to deal with this type of crime.

“We’ve lost young kids before due to this fentanyl crisis and so we’re very committed to protecting not only are community but America because when these narcotics are coming through they are […] split up and going into other communities,” Wiggins said.

Deputies suspect the two people arrested, Jamie Verela, 49, and Andrea Mshel, 36, were heading to Denver. He said they are not Utah residents and were driving a truck with a Nevada license plate. A deputy pulled them over for a broken taillight.

According to the DEA, the quantity seized by Grand County deputies was enough to kill about 152,000 first-time users.

“It’s about 152,000 potential lethal doses of fentanyl from that one seizure. It’s a lot,” said Dustin Gillespie, assistant special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Rocky Mountain Field Division.

Gillespie said agents confiscated a total of 294,000 fentanyl pills throughout Utah last year, approximately the same amount discovered by deputies just on Monday.

A dog sits behind a car

Grand County Sheriff’s Office said K9 officer Zora was instrumental in a massive drug bust in December 2023. (DEA)

“So (that) one seizure compared to what my DEA officers seized here in Utah last year, they almost matched it in one seizure,” Gillespie said. “That kind of gives you context for how big this was and the volume of drugs that are out there.”

And they expect things to get worse.

“The Sinaloa Cartel is to blame, they are here to drive addiction in our communities, to get as many people addicted as they can. They don’t care who you are, they don’t care if you die from an overdose … demand is high and right now supply is even higher,” Gillespie said.

He said cartels from Mexico are flooding the streets with fentanyl making it more affordable than ever and opening barriers of entry for new drug dealers. Gillespie said prices have dropped drastically in the last 18 months.

Depending on location, deputies and the DEA said fentanyl prices range from $30 a pill to as little as $1.

“That’s scary, it’s clearly designed to market our youth, in a new market, and to expand their market here,” Gillespie said.

With the new rainbow-colored fentanyl, contactless dealing on social media, and this drug’s highly addictive nature, authorities say parents need to be aware.

The Utah Department of Health and Human Services says about half of all overdose deaths in Utah this year are linked to fentanyl. In the first six months of 2023, there were 137 accidental fentanyl-involved overdose deaths. By comparison, there were 184 accidental fentanyl-involved overdose deaths in 2022.

The DEA’s “One Pill Can Kill” campaign provides information and resources for parents, teachers and teens. You can find it at

KSL 5 TV Live


The aftermath of a deadly road rage at Eagle Mountain in 2023 that killed Rodney Salm and Michaela ...

Daniel Woodruff

‘Chill out’: Utah drivers urged to avoid road rage as new law takes effect July 1

Utah officials had a clear message on the steps of the Capitol when it comes to road rage; chill out and think before you act.

3 hours ago

The scene of the drive-by shooting that hurt three men near a Murray TRAX station Thursday evening....

Pat Reavy,

Teen faces 19 felonies in gang-related drive-by shooting death in Murray

A 17-year-old boy is facing 19 felony charges accusing him of participating in a drive-by shooting that left one dead and three others injured.

4 hours ago

(KSL TV)...

Daniel Woodruff

Clearfield road rage suspect arrested, charged with murder

A West Point man has been charged with murder in connection to a deadly road rage incident in Clearfield earlier this month.

7 hours ago

Four people associated with the New Yorker nightclub in Salt Lake City are now facing criminal char...

Pat Reavy,

Employees of New Yorker nightclub face money laundering, other charges

Four people associated with the New Yorker nightclub in Salt Lake City are now facing criminal charges following a yearlong investigation into the now-closed business.

1 day ago

A man and young girl were injured following a motorcycle accident on Tuesday....

Eliza Pace

19-year-old man arrested in connection to Salt Lake City homicide

A 19-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of shooting and killing 30-year-old Nico Christopher Patino in May.

1 day ago

Police arresting the suspect in a double homicide in St. George on June 19, 2024....

Josh Ellis

Two people shot, killed in southern Utah home; suspect taken into custody

Police say two people were shot and killed and officers issued a shelter-in-place order as they search for a suspect who is considered armed and dangerous.

2 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Photo courtesy of Artists of Ballet West...

Ballet West

The rising demand for ballet tickets: why they’re harder to get

Ballet West’s box office is experiencing demand they’ve never seen before, leaving many interested patrons unable to secure tickets they want.

Electrician repairing ceiling fan with lamps indoors...

Lighting Design

Stay cool this summer with ceiling fans

When used correctly, ceiling fans help circulate cool and warm air. They can also help you save on utilities.

Side view at diverse group of children sitting in row at school classroom and using laptops...

PC Laptops

5 internet safety tips for kids

Read these tips about internet safety for kids so that your children can use this tool for learning and discovery in positive ways.

Women hold card for scanning key card to access Photocopier Security system concept...

Les Olson

Why printer security should be top of mind for your business

Connected printers have vulnerable endpoints that are an easy target for cyber thieves. Protect your business with these tips.

Modern chandelier hanging from a white slanted ceiling with windows in the backgruond...

Lighting Design

Light up your home with these top lighting trends for 2024

Check out the latest lighting design trends for 2024 and tips on how you can incorporate them into your home.

Technician woman fixing hardware of desktop computer. Close up....

PC Laptops

Tips for hassle-free computer repairs

Experiencing a glitch in your computer can be frustrating, but with these tips you can have your computer repaired without the stress.

Massive Utah drug bust highlights magnitude of fentanyl supply pushed by cartels