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Press Release

United States Attorney Vanessa R. Waldref Testifies Before United States Senate Committee on Indian Affairs about Fentanyl in Native Communities

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of Washington

Washington, D.C. – On December 6, Vanessa R. Waldref, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington, testified before the United States Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. The title of the hearing was “Fentanyl in Native Communities: Federal Perspectives on Addressing the Growing Crisis.” At the hearing, U.S. Attorney Waldref was joined by Adam Cohen, Deputy Director, White House Office of National Drug Control Policy; Roselyn Tso, Director, Indian Health Service for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; and Glen Melville, Bureau Deputy Director, Bureau of Indian Affairs – Office of Justice Services.

U.S. Attorney Waldref gave background on the fentanyl crisis in native communities, and the Department of Justice efforts to respond to it – including prevention and education efforts. One example noted by U.S. Attorney Waldref is the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Operation Engage. In the summer of 2022, Operation Engage worked with the Spokane Tribe of Indians through the Boys and Girls Club in Wellpinit, Washington, to host a day of learning and activities that focused on making healthy choices and increasing drug prevention and awareness.

In addition to prevention and education efforts, U.S. Attorney Waldref highlighted significant prosecutions in the Eastern District of Washington addressing the distribution of fentanyl on Native American reservations. For example, in January, more than 120,000 fentanyl-laced pills and 42 pounds of methamphetamine were sized in a takedown in Yakima County, Washington. In another recent case highlighted in U.S. Attorney Waldref’s testimony, the U.S. Attorney’s Office prosecuted a drug dealer in connection with the overdose death of a young Native American mother, who purchased drugs from the defendant on the Colville Indian Reservation.

“It was an honor to testify before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.  As I stated in my testimony, the Department of Justice’s commitment to serving Indian country goes beyond prosecution. We are public servants who want to do all we can to make Tribal communities stronger and safer,” stated U.S. Attorney Waldref.  “To accomplish that goal, we will continue to work in partnership with Tribal, federal, state, and local partners to effectuate a multi-faceted response to the fentanyl epidemic, who prosecuting those who distribute deadly fentanyl in the Eastern District of Washington.”

When asked during the hearing about examples of success in combating the fentanyl crisis in Native communities by Senator Jon Tester of Montana, U.S. Attorney Waldref further highlighted a case that involved the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Montana. In that case, more than 100 pounds of illegal drugs, including 161,000 fentanyl-laced pills were seized. A significant portion of the drugs seized were believed to be destined for the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, as well as for other Native American communities and surrounding areas in Washington and Montana.

U.S. Attorney Waldref’s testimony is available here.

A recording of the entire hearing is available here.


Robert Curry

Public Affairs Specialist

Updated December 6, 2023

Indian Country Law and Justice