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More than 2,000 Arizonans overdosed from fentanyl in 2020 with no sign of cases slowing down

Drug Enforcement Administration agents seized six million fentanyl pills in 2020, a significant increase from 2019.
Credit: Yavapai County Sheriff's Office

PHOENIX — In 2020 alone, state numbers show more than 2,000 Arizonans overdosed on fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that did not exist five years ago.

“One taste of that drug and you are going to be addicted if you don’t die,” Cheri Oz, Special Agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Phoenix Field Division said.

That’s the grim, unfortunate reality of the drug, that Roy and Wendy Plunk know all too well.

“I mean, I’m never going to be the same, you know? Part of my heart is gone,” Roy Plunk said.

The Plunks say their son, Zach Plunk, overdosed and died from fentanyl back in August 2020.

Zach was known for playing football for Hamilton High School, and Roy and Wendy say his life took a turn a few years back.

“He got addicted to it and we just could not get him off of it,” Roy Plunk said. “We tried everything.”

Oz said her DEA agents seized six million fentanyl pills in Arizona in 2020. That’s up from 1.4 million in 2019.

However, Oz tells 12 News, the price of the drug hasn’t changed in the state, likely meaning, the six million pills they’ve seized haven’t affected the drug cartels enough to raise their prices.

Now, Oz said they’re finding the opiate in other drugs including marijuana, cocaine, and more.

“As fentanyl has been put into other things and because it’s so addictive the demand has grown,” Oz said.

In 2020, data from the Arizona Department of Health Services shows fentanyl is linked to 40.9% of drug overdoses and is showing to be the most fatal opiate.

The DEA also found a new variant of fentanyl in 2020 called para-fluorofentanyl that agents believe is more addictive and likely more deadly, leaving a grim reality ahead in 2021.

“We’re on an upward trajectory which is not a good place to be,” Oz said.

Oz is concerned about how many more lives could be taken, as a lethal dose of the drug is equivalent to two grains of salt. Meaning, one pill can be the difference between life and death.

“That’s unfortunately what happened to Zach,” Roy Plunk said. “He got a hold of a pill that had a lethal dose for five people, so he didn’t even have a chance.”