Fentanyl fears are on the rise across Arizona. New preliminary numbers show for the first time in Arizona’s history, more people are overdosing on fentanyl, than heroin, and more and more teens are showing up with the dangerous drug in their system.
“There’s no worse part of our job than have to tell a family there’s nothing we can do,” said Dr. Rahul Chawla, a pediatrician at Banner Thunderbird’s Pediatric Intensive Care Unit.
Dr. Chawla says never before has he seen so many teenagers coming into his emergency room overdosing.
“You’ll see it when there’s times of stress in school, definitely Fridays and Saturdays,” Dr. Chawla said.
In most of Dr. Chawla’s cases, the patients aren’t addicts. They are teens experimenting with drugs, typically some kind of pill.
“They’re popping tablets or pills not knowing what they are or thinking they’re one thing, might just pop one and take it thinking its something,” said Dr. Chawla.
But it turns out, the pill is made with fentanyl. Just the slightest amount can be deadly.
“The vast majority of the time they have no idea its fentanyl,” said Dr. Adam Bosak, a toxicologist at Banner Thunderbird. “This can happen to anybody’s children, and it has.”
Erica Curry, a DEA spokesperson in Phoenix, says fentanyl has been on the department’s radar for quite some time; however, in the past, it has been coming into the U.S. from China. Now, there’s a new manufacturer.
“The Mexican cartels have begun generating and manufacturing fentanyl products on their own,” said Curry.
That makes the Grand Canyon State ground zero.
“We’re seeing more fentanyl here along the southwest border and in Arizona than we see in the rest of the country,” said Curry.
Curry says counterfeit Xanax and Percocet pills look identical to the real deal. But the cartel’s pills are made with fentanyl, and there’s no telling how much is in each pill.
So far, this year in Arizona alone, the DEA has seized enough fentanyl to kill more than 50 million people. Experts say just one to two milligrams of the drug, an amount smaller than the size of a dime, can be deadly to the average person.
“This is how scary this product is. This is how much is coming across the border. And this why we’re trying to warn everybody don’t take any of these substances,” Curry explained.
As the DEA works to get distributors off the streets, Dr. Chawla, who is a father himself, says parents should be informing their kids.
“Don’t take it. You have to know what you’re putting into your body,” he said.
If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, there is help out there. The SAMHSA National Helpline is 1-800-662-HELP.
This story was written by Bianca Bouno at KPNX news.