Fentanyl making up bigger share of drug cases

FLORENCE - The dangerous synthetic opioid fentanyl is sharply increasing its prevalence in drug cases in Pinal County.

Fentanyl, which is roughly 100 times stronger than morphine, has been attributed to an uptick in opioid overdose deaths across the country in recent years. It takes a small amount to overdose and has become the drug of choice for some due to how cheap and easy it is to obtain.

"Not just in Pinal County but across the state and across the nation, we've just seen this unbelievable explosion of fentanyl and we're not immune to it," said Pinal County Attorney Kent Volkmer.

Volkmer noted the increasing prevalence of fentanyl in drug cases in Pinal County.

In 2019, less than 2% of drug-related charges involved fentanyl. In 2020, that number increased to around 11%. In 2021, the number exceeded 22%.

"We've seen a 750% increase in...charging for fentanyl," Volkmer said.

The effects of the drug are not hard to find.

"Pinal County is witnessing overall, about one overdose every single day," Volkmer said. "Not everybody is passing, but on average we see almost an overdose every day. That's tragic."

A woman who previously used fentanyl hopes her story deters anyone else from trying the drug.

"I just have a great life," said Valley resident Amanda Thompson, who has been sober for nearly two years. "If you would have asked me three years ago how my life would be I probably would have told you I'd be dead."

Thompson said she first used fentanyl by way of a guy she was dating at the time.

"At first it was just laced in the heroin we got and when we didn't get that we started smoking the [pills]," Thompson said.

Thompson was candid in sharing her story, hoping others realize the dangers of fentanyl.

"My friend diluted the pill and I snorted it...that's the last thing I remember," she said. "I woke up to being shot with Narcan, on the second shot, because I flatlined."

Thompson noted the devastating impact fentanyl has had on her life and those around her.

"I can't even tell you in the last 18 months that I've been sober how many people I've known from my past have died from fentanyl," she said. "Probably at least ten."

Thompson said during sobriety she repaired her relationship with family and is now in a much better place. She hopes her story deters others from ever trying the drug.

"Don't do it," she said. "I had my family, I had everything, and it was just, in the blink of an eye I lost it all. You can die."

Volkmer noted the problem fentanyl is causing across the country.

"That's the scariest part, there's not an easy solution," he said.

If you or someone you know needs help with opioid addiction, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has a National Hotline. That number is 1-800-662-4357.

According to the Arizona Department of Health Services, there have been more than 11,500 suspected opioid deaths in the state since the Summer of 2017.