Beginning 2017, Arizona has recorded a significant increase in drug overdose deaths than ever before. Generally, opioid abuse and deaths from opioid overdose have increased nationally in what is now being described as the opioid epidemic. However, Arizona seems to have been hit very hard, specifically by fentanyl deaths.
According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), this year alone, more than 1 million fentanyl pills have been seized in Arizona. With such seizures, it is no surprise that fentanyl deaths around Arizona are spiraling out of control.
Fentanyl is a big problem in Arizona if the response from U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is anything to go by. Towards end of 2018, the department awarded Arizona $26 million to fight the opioid crisis, with the government allocating at least $1 billion for all states. Unfortunately, the synthetic opioid fentanyl problem seems to be going downhill as pills seized this year increased by more than 800,000 compared to 2018.
What is fentanyl?
According to Center for Disease Control and prevention, fentanyl is the deadliest drug in America right now. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid pain reliever, approved for treating severe pain, typically advanced cancer pain. It is prescribed as transdermal patches or lozenges, but these have been diverted to misuse in most parts of U.S.
The first response to the fentanyl invasion was to limit its prescription. Arizona had some of the highest prescriptions in the U.S. However, these efforts failed because fentanyl is a man-made opioid and can be manufactured. Recent cases of fentanyl-associated harm, overdose and fatalities are linked to illegally manufactured fentanyl. In Arizona, the fentanyl invasion has come in form of Mexican Oxy.
Illegally made fentanyl is peddled through illegal drug markets for its heroin-like effect. It is often blended with heroin and/or cocaine as a mishmash product—with or without the user’s knowledge—to intensify its euphoric effects.
Why is Fentanyl so Deadly?
Fentanyl is now the most commonly abused drug and leading cause of drug overdose as per Department of Health and Human Services report. Generally, drug overdoses from synthetic opioid have increased by almost 113% every year since 2013 through 2016.
According to CNN Wire, fentanyl is 50 times more powerful than heroin and between 80 and 100 times more powerful than morphine. Just a quarter of a milligram of fentanyl can be fatal. To understand just how fatal this is, a standard low-dose aspirin is 81 milligrams for comparison sake. So cut the aspirin tablet into 324 pieces and only one of these pieces is equal to a quarter milligram. Only a third of that aspirin is considered a deadly dose of fentanyl.
Synthetic opioids such as fentanyl are manmade, unlike semi-synthetic opioids such as oxycodone or naturally-occurring ones such as morphine or codeine. Fentanyl has an extreme capacity to bind more to opioid receptors in the brain than most other opioids. This makes it much stronger and so much more deadly.
Prevalence of Fentanyl Use in Arizona
13 out of the total 15 counties in Arizona have recorded fentanyl deaths between mid- 2017 and early 2019. The most affected county, La Paz recorded 597 deaths in 100,000 people in the same period, while the least affected has death rates of 106 within the same population and period.
Fentanyl deaths have surpassed those of heroin, and have affected all Arizona demographic groups. Residents say it is the worst kind of drug invasion seen in the last 30 years. This comes as the state grapples with plenty of pills and powder vended locally from incoming fentanyl shipments that are also circulated everywhere in the U.S.
Alarmingly, in spite of early efforts by the government to stop the invasion before it causes more fentanyl deaths; its use is has spread like wildfire. For instance, according to the DEA in Arizona, in 2017; its agents confiscated 172 pounds of powdered fentanyl. In 2018, they seized a total of 445 pounds pointing to 159 percent increase.
In 2017, DEA agents had also seized over 95,000 pills of fentanyl laced pills. This amount increased in 2018 to 379,000, which translated to almost 300 percent increase. In 2019, 1,138,288 illegally manufactured fentanyl pills were seized. Such significant increase in illegally manufactured fentanyl shows that war on fentanyl deaths is far from over.
Why the Sudden Arizona Invasion?
Earlier we mentioned Mexico Oxy – a form of fentanyl that has claimed several lives in Arizona. The fatal fentanyl pills apprehended by law enforcement are mainly designed to look a lot like oxycodone M-30 tablets.
The number of states reporting increased confiscations in fentanyl has been on the increase, but more pain is being felt in Arizona. According to the DEA, for as low as $200 a woman was used to smuggle Mexican Oxy to Arizona. She gave one of these deadly pills to a 17-year-old basketball player who was saved by Phoenix police from fentanyl overdose.
DEA believes that these pills are trafficked into U.S. by Mexican cartels where they are being manufactured illegally. The Arizona-Mexican border could be a big problem that Mexican cartels exploit to traffic fentanyl into Phoenix. It is then packaged as oxycodone. There was also a new discovery of a rustic fentanyl lab in remote Sinaloa.
Clearly, the illegal substance is also being manufactured across the U.S. border, in addition to legal importation that comes from Mexico and China according to NBC news. Then this remains an issue of law enforcement more than it is about regulation.
How can Fentanyl Deaths be Avoided?
The government is making efforts to contain the fentanyl invasion in Arizona. For starters, there is a helpline designated to help those in crisis to provide emergency help in case of overdose and other symptoms. The helpline is live. Clergy and faith leaders across Phoenix have also taken a more aggressive role by learning how to administer a life-saving medication properly.
One of the popular opinions is to allow the widespread use of fentanyl test strip for all people. There is a problem however when people are popping pills in clubs. Fentanyl use seems to have crossed lots of demographics as well, but its abuse is prevalent among young people between 15 and 19. Use of these testing kits may not be effective.
The most effective way to perhaps deal with these skyrocketing fentanyl deaths is by focusing on law enforcement. All efforts need to shift to blocking illegal manufacture and import of fentanyl.
Here, we will keep updating you on all latest the developments in keeping Arizona safe from fentanyl. You can also contact us for any emergency related to fentanyl and opioid overdose.