ARIZONA, USA — Just this month, the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Phoenix Field Division said they’ve seized 3 million fentanyl pills in Arizona.
That’s half of what they took off the streets in all of 2020.
Number one drug threat
Special Agent in Charge of the Phoenix Field Division, Cheri Oz, said fentanyl is the number one drug threat to Arizona.
“We have people who take Vicodin or take Percocet and for whatever reason, they’re going to a street dealer instead of their pharmacy and they are not getting Vicodin, they’re not getting Percocet, they’re not getting Adderall,” Oz said. “What they’re getting almost 100% of the time is fentanyl.”
Oz said often the illegal fentanyl pills are coming up from Mexico via the Sinaloa Cartel, then distributed in and beyond Arizona.
"It’s a very organized organization. We’re a transshipment point so drugs do come up here and then get re-packaged and get distributed out to the rest of the country,” Oz said.
Impact on families
Oz said about 26% of fentanyl pills will lead to death.
Martha Torres has experienced that statistic in her life, as she said fentanyl took her 25-year-old son, Adrian Carrasco-Torres’ life.
“He was partying with his friends and he pretty much thought he was taking a different kind of pill,” Torres said. “He didn’t know it was laced with fentanyl I’m sure because he wasn’t that type of kid that would just take anything.”
Torres said Adrian died last November, leaving her with memories of his smile, and caring heart.
“He always joked around, he always made all of us laugh,” Torres said.
While her son may be gone, her heart still worries about fentanyl’s impact.
“I worry about all the young kids that are doing it right now without knowing what they’re taking,” Torres said.
Large fentanyl busts
While the DEA has seized half of the number of fentanyl pills in August than the number they seized in all of 2020, other agencies have also taken pills off the streets.
Tempe Police Department posted on Twitter this week that a traffic stop led to a 151,000 pill bust. Earlier in the month, the Arizona Department of Public Safety reported a 100,000 pill bust.
“What’s alarming is that we are seeing such large busts,” Oz said. “Which means there’s less and less stigma and they’re (pills) are easier to get.”
Changes being made
Oz said dealers are making changes to fentanyl being found on the streets now, including making fentanyl stronger and more deadly.
In December, the DEA warned of a new variant of fentanyl, called para-fluoralfentanyl or PFF.
At the time, the DEA said the Maricopa County Medical Examiner’s Office had found PFF in 11 suspected overdoses alongside other drugs.
Oz said dealers are also making fentanyl harder to spot.
“People are starting to catch on that the pills that look like oxycodone, the counterfeit oxys, may actually kill you. So they’re changing the way they’re pressed and they’re putting them in a new package so that they can be market two younger kids and more kids,” Oz said.
Oz said that’s why pills only from a pharmacy should be trusted, and encouraged parents to talk to their children.
“This is something that is not going to go away. We have to start talking about it, we have to take steps as a community to come together and say no to this horrible, dangerous drug,” Oz said.
If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) National Helpline may be able to help. You can call them at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
The DEA is also hosting The National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day on October 23. The DEA said often misused prescription drugs were taken from family and friends’ medicine cabinets. You can find a location to drop off old prescription drugs here.
The CDC has resources for opioid addiction and opioid-related overdoses here.
The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office also keeps information and resources here.
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