On Tuesday, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration said that more than 30 fatalities in Arizona’s Maricopa County were caused by a deadly substance laced in fake prescription drugs that entered Arizona through Mexico,
The new drug:
Black-market pills laced with illegally made fentanyl, a powerful opioid said to be 100 times stronger than morphine caused 32 confirmed overdose deaths in the county, recorded from May 2015 to February 2017
In the United States, pharmaceutical fentanyl is legal for treatment of cancer patients with severe chronic pain. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, illicitly manufactured versions of the synthetic opioid are often mixed with heroin or cocaine.
Mexican drug-trafficking organizations that manufactured and smuggled the counterfeit oxycodone pills laced with fentanyl into the United States are responsible for the fatalities, according to the DEA Heroin Enforcement Action Team.
Special agent in charge of the DEA in Arizona, Doug Coleman, said: “What we have is a rapidly expanding opioid-based drug addiction in the country, and we have Mexican drug cartels adjusting to push dangerous drugs on streets.They think they’re taking oxy, but they’re actually taking fentanyl, and it’s lights out.”
In addition to fentanyl, nearly 75% of the overdoses contained dipyrone, a painkiller banned for use in the country since 1977, according to the Maricopa County Medical Examiner’s Office discovery.
Those who died had an age range between 16 to 64 years old, with an average age of 35.
It will get worse, before it gets better:
The number of fentanyl-related deaths that occurred throughout the state is still unknown. Nationwide, more than 2,000 fentanyl-related overdoses were recorded in 2015, according to death reports from several states by the DEA.
When someone is prescribed a set amount of opioids by a doctor that is then abused, is how addiction typically begins, leading addicts to switch to street-level heroin. Coleman said: “It affects all classes, all age groups.”
the DEA was aware of the pills entering through the Arizona-Mexico border but initially thought they were being transported elsewhere, according to Coleman. On the streets in the Phoenix area, thousands of drugs are being sold for $15 to $20 per pill still, with no way for addicts to tell if it is a genuine oxycodone.
Chief Maricopa County medical examiner, Jeffrey Johnston said that the drug takes much less to kill someone than oxycodone; it induces a lethargic state, slurred speech and can make users slip into a comatose state before they die. He added: “In these types of deaths, what we typically see is that they are faster.”
Toxicology reports for subsequent deaths are still pending per the medical examiner’s office meaning that the number of deaths is likely to grow. In February, four related deaths were recorded.
Coleman said: “It’s going to get worse before it gets better.”