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Reports Of Fentanyl Found In All Kinds Of Drugs In Arizona

Department of the Interior
In May of 2018, the Department of Interior said it's seized nearly 10,000 fentanyl pills and other drugs during a weeklong operation on Arizona tribal land.

Concerns about the highly potent opioid fentanyl are on the rise in Arizona.

Across the country, deaths from fentanyl have skyrocketed in recent years.

But Arizona appeared to be holding off the “tidal wave” of deaths compared to places like the Midwest and New England. Only about 10 percent of fatal overdoses in Arizona between last summer and this summer involved fentanyl, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.

That could be changing.

Arizona health officials saw an increase in reported fentanyl deaths this summer, in part, due to new testing procedures.

Fentanyl can be anywhere from 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine.

“We have been receiving positive reports all over the state in all kinds of drugs,” Haley Coles, director of the nonprofit Sonoran Prevention Works, said.

Coles said this includes “black tar heroin, China white heroin, cocaine and meth.”

She said the spread of fentanyl into street drugs has caused many drug users to change their behaviors.

“People say they make sure not to use alone. They use less. Some are so freaked out that they are switching suppliers,” Coles said.   

Since June, Coles’ organization has been distributing thousands of fentanyl test strips to drug users in Arizona.

More than 250 have come back positive for fentanyl.

Coles believes fentanyl has been more widespread in Arizona than the data has necessarily shown. Arizona law enforcement has also seized large quantities of fentanyl in pill form.

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery told KJZZ earlier this year that fentanyl is being shipped from China and then drug cartels are transporting it across the U.S.-Mexico border.

“Someone who has that opioid addiction and goes to purchase what they believe is an oxycodone pill off the street could instead be getting something that’s all fentanyl and deaths can and will likely result,” Montgomery said.

Nearly 950 people died from opioid overdoses in Arizona last year — about a 20 percent increase from the year before.

While a small amount of fentanyl can be fatal, federal safety officials say skin contact is “not expected to lead to harmful effects” if the drug is promptly washed off.

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Will Stone grew up with the sounds of public radio. As a senior field correspondent, he strives to tell the same kind of powerful stories that got him into the business — whether that means trudging through some distant corner of the Sonoran Desert or uncovering an unknown injustice right down the street. Since joining the KJZZ newsroom in 2015, he has covered political scandals, fights over the future of energy, and efforts to care for some of Arizona’s most vulnerable communities. His pieces have also aired on national programs like Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Here & Now and Marketplace. Before coming to KJZZ, he reported for public radio stations in Nevada and Connecticut. Stone received his degree in English literature from Haverford College, where he also wrote about the arts and culture scene in Philadelphia. After graduating, he interned at NPR West in Culver City, California, where he learned from some of the network’s veteran reporters and editors. When he doesn’t have a mic in hand, Stone enjoys climbing mountains, running through his central Phoenix neighborhood and shamelessly promoting his cat, Barry.