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Fentanyl crisis in Arizona: New law seeks to save drug addicts with a harm reduction tool

New law legalizes fentanyl testing and seeks to curb the synthetic opioid death drug's grip on Arizona families.


The fentanyl crisis in Arizona is here and doesn't appear to be going anywhere according to the Substance Abuse Coalition Leaders of Arizona 

Gov. Doug Ducey declared a state of emergency in 2017, as overdose cases continued to rise. According to the Arizona Department of Public Health's Vital Records, opioid deaths increased from 1,359 in 2019 to 1,960 in 2020.  

Fentanyl was the number one substance found in opioids

“There’s a lot of kids out there that are going through this. There’s a lot of parents out there,” said Matt and Lindsay Taylor, who lost their 17-year-old son Alex to a fentanyl overdose nearly two weeks ago. “Years ago there wasn’t fentanyl being mixed into drugs like they are now. These kids are getting way over their heads, and they don’t even know it.”     

The number of counterfeit pills laced with the synthetic opioid seized by the Drug Enforcement Administration increased by 1,610% between 2019 and 2020.  

For a full rundown of fentanyl figures, click here.

New Arizona law legalizes Fentanyl testing tool to save addicts from the deadly drug  

“I’ve been on this crusade because I think that’s what my son would want,” said Democratic Sen. Christine Marsh, who sponsored SB-1486 which Ducey signed into law.    

Marsh lost her son Landon to a fentanyl overdose.  

“Drug use claims far too many lives each year,” Ducey said. “We want everyone who is using drugs to seek professional treatment. But until someone is ready to get help, we need to make sure they have the tools necessary to prevent a lethal overdose. Senator Christine Marsh lost her son to an overdose last year, and she took the lead on today’s legislation to protect those who are taking drugs from fentanyl overdoses. My heart goes out to her for her strength and commitment to protecting other Arizona families. Thank you, Senator Marsh.”  

Senate Bill 1486 aims to combat the trend by excluding narcotic drug testing products that are used to determine whether a controlled substance contains fentanyl or a fentanyl analog from the list of illegal drug paraphernalia. 

Even a very small amount of fentanyl can be deadly, and heroin and other drugs have been laced with fentanyl without the knowledge of the person using the drugs. 

“It’s for the people like my son who on a random night did something stupid and bought something that killed him and the people really struggling with addiction,” said Marsh said.  

RELATED: New legislation signed in Arizona to prevent fentanyl overdoses

What is Harm Reduction and how does it help addicts?  

Harm reduction refers to a range of public health policies designed to lessen the negative social and or physical consequences associated with various human behaviors, both legal and illegal. 

Examples include needle exchanges to reduce transmission of HIV or Hepatitis C for intravenous drug users.  

Narcan or naloxone is a drug used for the emergency treatment of known or suspected opioid overdose.  

"For the people who are battling addiction, these testing strips will change behavior," Marsh said. "If they realize there is fentanyl, maybe they have Narcan or they may consume the substance slowly and make sure people are with them."  

Marsh said the law is the first in many steps needed to combat fentanyl and addiction.  

“It’s for the people like my son who on a random night did something stupid and bought something that killed him and the people really struggling with addiction,” she said. 

RELATED: 'No one is immune to this': Valley family shares story of drug addiction that claimed 17-year-old after fentanyl overdose

Another perspective, abstinence

“You’ve got teenagers trying Percocet for the first time and dying,” said founder and CEO of Cornerstone Healing Center in Scottsdale, Estil Wallace.  

Wallace supports the harm reduction model but believes abstinence is key to defeating addiction.  

"Addiction has been around for as long as we've had alcohol," said Wallace. "The landscape over decades hasn't changed until the introduction of fentanyl, this is different."  

Whether it's fentanyl testing strips, needle exchanges or Narcan, he believes no one has a one-size-fits-all answer for tackling the opioid crisis.   

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