St. Ignatius District meeting reveals extent of illegal drug use on the Flathead Reservation

ST. IGNATIUS — The couple-dozens of folks at the St. Ignatius District meeting, hosted by Mission District Tribal Councilwoman Ellie Bundy, got a good feed prior to hearing a stomach upsetting bit of non-so-good news about the drug epidemic on the Flathead Reservation.

“All of us struggle with drug and alcohol addictions in our families,” Councilwoman Bundy said in her opening referencing to extended families and the tribal family. One way or another it scrapes the lives of all. It is happening on Indian reservations, as well as small and large communities nationwide. Addiction doesn’t have racial, gender or social strata boundaries. Addiction is not merciful. It ruins lives. It ends lives. It leaves those left unscathed or left behind wondering what went wrong and seeking answers to questions that often times have no answers.

Flathead Nation Tribal Police Department drug investigation officers Vern Fisher and Will Mesteth laid the groundwork for what is going on with the use of illegal drugs and illegal use of prescription drugs with an unencouraging recount of several of the drug busts they were a part of.

Mesteth began by saying drug use not only on the Flathead Reservation but nationally evolves with drugs of choice options. For instance, Mesteth said he rarely sees cocaine on the reservation, and that illegal use of prescription drugs is waning. 

Why is that? The answer is easy. Methamphetamine, heroine and legal and illegally produced Fentanyl are now the predominant drugs of choice. The illegally produced Fentanyl composition is often a deadly combination of other drugs, and the doses are never consistent. As a result, the ingestion of one pill or portion can result in immediate death. To this point this year there have been seven deaths as a result of overdose on the reservation.

“Heroine is on the reservation now and we see a lot of it,” Mesteth said. “It comes from Mexico and we don’t know what’s in it and neither does the user.”

The pair have conducted drug busts in every reservation community.

A conundrum law enforcement face is the lack of jail space to house alleged illegal drug users. On the reservation the smalltime drug users are usually the ones that are arrested for illegal drug use. And that provides the drug enforcement officers with the opportunity to offer them a chance to lessen a sentence if they cooperate by, among other things, revealing the major dealers. However, that rarely happens.

The suppliers of large amounts of illegal drugs are the targets of investigators. However, for the most part they are very deft at their illegal craft. They not only have illegal drugs for sale but they traffic women, mostly young women for prostitution. Sometimes they brazenly advertise their services on Facebook. 

Most of the illegal drugs of choice on the reservation come from the Mexican cartel drug network in Washington state, Fisher said. 

Mesteth and Fisher gave some insight on who they are and their interactions with them. 

Mesteth described Juan Geronimo Pina, as “kind of a cool guy” he interacted with during an investigation and got on a first name basis “but he was trafficking drugs on the reservation.”

Mesteth eventually busted Pina in Ronan with 346 grams — more than 12 ounces — of methamphetamine and nearly $80,000 in cash when busted. Pina was sentenced to 12 years in prison.

“It blows my mind on how much drugs these guys bring on the reservation,” Mesteth said.

Both officers said that there could be more arrests of big-time drug suppliers but those that could offer help just don’t want to because of their addiction or because they are afraid of the Mexican cartel supplies and other such supplies.


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