Illicit Mexican Fentanyl Taking Its Toll on Arizonans

By Bryan Le 02/18/19

The number of fentanyl deaths in Arizona tripled between 2015 and 2017.

Border patrol agent after historic fentanyl bust

At a party in Arizona, a small group of people took a few blue pills together, unaware of what was in them. Police were able to save three of them by applying naloxone, but it was too late for a fourth, 19-year-old Aaron Francisco Chavez.

Investigators discovered that the group believed they had gotten their hands on oxycodone, a relatively less powerful opioid. The deaths, authorities say, are part of a massive fentanyl epidemic sweeping the state.

“It's the worst I've seen in 30 years, this toll that it's taken on families,” said Arizona-based DEA agent Doug Coleman. “The crack (cocaine) crisis was not as bad.”

The pills are reportedly gaining steam among partygoers in the state, which some experts believe is due to the delivery system.

“There's less stigma to taking a pill than putting a needle in your arm, but one of these pills can have enough fentanyl for three people,” said Lt. Nate Auvenshine of the Yavapai County Sheriff's office.

The blue pills that are taking over Arizona have an “M” on one side and a “30” on the other side, done to intentionally fool users into thinking that the meds are legitimate. These pills are the newest product from the notorious Mexican Sinaloa drug cartel, claims Tucson Police Lt. Christian Wildblood. The reason they are particularly deadly is simple—they adhere to no standards, made with pill presses bought online, so the amount of fentanyl in each pill isn’t very exact.

"There is no quality control," said Lt. Wildblood.

The main way Mexican fentanyl enters the United States is in hidden compartments inside vehicles crossing through official border crossings, according to Customs and Border Protection (CBP). About 85% of the stuff comes in through the San Diego crossing, but the Drug Enforcement Administration notes that Arizona’s crossings are seeing a sharp rise in fentanyl seizures.

Between 2017 and 2018, the DEA saw seizures rise from 172 pounds, or 54,984 pills, to a whopping 445 pounds, or 379,557 pills.

The Sinaloa cartel continues to smuggle drugs despite the extradition of its leader, El Chapo, who recently received a life sentence in the U.S. This is a testament to their ability, says Coleman. 

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Bryan Le grew up in the 90's, so the Internet is practically his third parent. This combined with a love for journalism led him to The Fix. When he isn't fulfilling his duties as Editorial Coordinator, he's obsessing over fancy keyboards he can't justify buying. Find Bryan on LinkedIn or Twitter