Fentanyl Popping Up as a Problem in the Valley: Is It At a Crisis Level Yet?

Photo Credit: AZCentral.com

Five years ago, fentanyl was still on the relative fringes of society. Stories of this end-of-life painkiller being abused existed, but it hadn’t yet exploded into the national consciousness. And then Covid hit, and the entire world dealt with isolation and emotional health issues in various ways. This combined with a massive increase of production and importation created the perfect storm for the second pandemic: fentanyl addiction.

While anyone who has spent time in west coast downtown areas recently has likely seen, the problem is not evenly distributed, and Arizona has been spared the worst of it. That is, until now, as the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office is ringing the alarm bells and announcing a 5,000% increase in deaths from the drug over the last decade.

It should be noted that percentage increases can be unreliable measures in some capacity; after all, if the starting number is small the ending number may still not be huge. And deaths from fentanyl a decade ago were nearly non-existent. But how do we stack up?

For starters, precise statistics are notoriously difficult to gather. The CDC has rankings of overall overdose deaths by state, but it lumps all drugs together and the most recent year with full data is 2021, where we rank 17th (1st is the most overdoses). A fentanyl-focused group, Families Against Fentanyl, has done some heavy lifting regarding pouring through the specifics. Their research puts Arizona slightly below the national average when it comes to the increase in fentanyl deaths compared to the national average. Seen through this prism, County Attorney Mitchell’s alarm is in sync with a national alarm, signifying that this is a nationwide problem.

Regardless of how we stack against other states and regions, one thing is clear: fentanyl is perhaps the single most destructive drug of our lifetimes. It’s only saving grace, that it is so cheap that it does not necessitate committing crimes to fuel an addiction like heroin or meth has, is also one of its most destructive elements, that it’s accessible and cheap.

So how do we fix this crisis? There are no easy answers: solving the border crisis will help, but traffickers will be creative when there is money to be made. Increasing treatment options and compelling treatment is important. And draconian consequences for anyone selling it may help thwart supply. But much of the onus falls on parents, to do everything in their power to ensure that their children understand the death sentence that is fentanyl.