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DIGGING DEEPER: Drug overdose deaths at an all-time high

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TUCSON (KVOA) - Drug overdoses are the highest they have ever been. And there are still four months left in the year.

Pima County Health Officials said the issue has reached crisis levels. They are even more concerned now that the school is beginning.

"Fentanyl, is safe to say for the last couple of months, at least in the world of drug overdoses, is public enemy No. 1," Mark Person director of programs at the Pima County Health Department said.

Year to date, there have been 226 overdose deaths in Pima County.  Forty-five percent of those involved fentanyl.

"It's definitely here," Person said. "It's widespread and really unfortunately, it's starting to kill our young folks."

A graph that showed the fentanyl deaths showed the following.

Dates of Deaths Related to Fentanyl

  • Jan. 11
  • Feb. 10
  • March 11
  • April 15
  • May 21
  • June  20
  • July  15

Person said there were five additional deaths in July that were not reported on the graph.

He also said some people do not know they are taking fentanyl.

"Frequently, these drugs are stamped with numbers to look like other pharmaceutical drugs, like opioids or benzodiazepine," Person said.

Ethan Travis, 26, said that was what happened to him when he overdosed and his mother found him.

"I was purple and blue," he said. I was in the ICU for days and they were saying I wasn't going to come back."

His kidneys shut down, defying all odds, he survived.

Travis agreed that Fentanyl is public enemy number one.

"I personally think it's because they're cheap and they are everywhere," he said.

Travis said he was addicted to heroin for a decade. "I would not wish this on my worst enemy," he said.

Travis said he has overdosed many times and has hurt many in the process. Now, he said he is committed to getting clean.

"It's just a life I didn't want to keep living," he said.

Currently, he is a resident at Amity's Circle Tree Ranch, where he has been sober for 60 days.

He has advice for those who may be struggling with their addiction.

"Get some help as quick as you can," Travis said. "The alternative is prison or death."

Person added, "the best thing you can do to avoid dying from this drug is to not take it."

The director of programs also mentioned he believes the pandemic also has something to do with the increase in overdose deaths.

He said law enforcement is doing its best to keep the drugs off the streets.

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Lupita Murillo

Lupita Murillo is an investigative reporter. She is part of the Digging Deeper team that uncovers important issues focusing on crime that affects the community.

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