Fentanyl use continues to rise in Pinal County: A firsthand account

Tom Reardon

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Fentanyl accounted for over 22% of drug related arrests in Pinal County in 2021.Drew Angerer / Getty Images

By Tom Reardon / NewsBreak Pinal County, AZ

Pinal County, Arizona, has experienced a significant Fentanyl problem in the past year. According to the Pinal County Attorney’s Office website, in 2021, Fentanyl arrests accounted for over 22% of all drug arrests in the County. On April 6, 2022, a recent arrest involving a 23-year-old woman, Ariana Felix, who was carrying 117 pills containing Fentanyl, was just another example of how prevalent this drug has become in the county.

"I don't know where the end is," said County Attorney Kent Volkmer on the website. "The issue is we have an addiction-based society. As long as it is cheap, as long as it gives an incredible high, I don't know where the end is."

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 100 times more powerful than heroin. The drug is relatively easy to obtain, and experts fear that it is a common ingredient in many, if not all, of the popular “street” pills. Recently, the Pinal County Sheriff’s Department has created a video called “Your Room Will Be Forever Silent” to help address this issue and help the public understand the danger of this almost imperceptible drug.

The three-part series of short videos allows the parents of teenagers who died of Fentanyl overdoses to share their stories while sitting in the room of their deceased children. The mothers of Ethan, Kaylie, and Paul share how their children’s room will forever be silent after accidentally overdosing. Each parent relates their own story, but the common thread is that their children did not understand the risk they were taking by swallowing a single pill.

Some users of Fentanyl, though, are very aware of what they are getting themselves into each time they take the drug. One current user, who asked to be called “Walt,” shared the following information on why there are so many overdoses.

“(There are) a lot of factors,” Walt tells NewsBreak. “It’s easy to sneak into other drugs. It only takes a pure amount the size of less than a half teaspoon of salt to kill you. It’s cheap, so the average drug user has enough money to purchase a lethal amount daily,” he adds.

In a recent study, the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) published some alarming results related to teen drug use between 14 to18. Their study found “that while drug use among this age group is actually falling, fatalities are on the rise, jumping from 492 in 2019 to 954 in 2020, then climbing to 1,146 in 2021.” The study went on to say how the influx of counterfeit pills containing Fentanyl is the main culprit of this problem. These pills are passed off as Xanax or Oxycodone to unsuspecting users creating a dangerous effect.

“Walt” commented on this, as well, “It’s the strongest, cheapest opiate available right now. On the street, it’s most commonly found as a little blue pill, made to look like an Oxycodone 30mg (tablet). It’s also a lot less intimidating for users. It is cheaper than heroin and easy to conceal, also easier to get.”

In 2021, for example, according to a study done by the University of California at San Francisco, over two million Fentanyl-filled pills were seized by law enforcement between October 1 and December 31. The study also cited that over 100,000 Americans lost their lives last year to Fentanyl overdoses.

“One thing I can say about opiates, and strong ones in particular like Fentanyl, is that you trade your soul and everything fun in your life to feel little or no pain, emotional or physical. That’s no way to live. With Fentanyl, it’s like playing Russian Roulette every time you pick it up,” says “Walt.”

“Walt” describes himself as “more of an active user than I would like to be. I’m actively taking meds (methadone) to stay off of (Fentanyl), but I do occasionally still partake. I have a strange relationship with it. During the workday, I’m 110% not using anything, but sometimes in the evenings, I pick up, and for most users, that’s unheard of. It’s usually an all or nothing type of drug.”

The three videos created by the Pinal County Sheriff’s Department are just a drop in the bucket compared to the thousands of stories out there that could be shared by parents, siblings, friends, and loved ones who have lost an important person in their lives.

The Arizona Department of Health Services has a list of community resources for opioid addiction treatment in AZ and beyond.

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Tom Reardon is a Phoenix native and has been writing about events in and around Arizona for the last decade.

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