Counterfeit fentanyl leads to drug fatalities

Law enforcement officials are warning city residents and local students about the recent spread of counterfeit fentanyl, which led to multiple overdoses and two fatalities within the last month. 

The Flagstaff Police Department (FPD) initially reported two deaths at separate locations. Both scenes contained clear, small bags filled with blue pills marked “M30,” according to The Associated Press (AP).

Public relations officer Charles Hernandez II said each death is reviewed individually, and results are shared with investigators to figure out what the police department can do to prevent any additional deaths. 

“More recently, the overdoses and deaths have spiked significantly, prompting the greater response and request for action from the community,” Hernandez said. “We are currently waiting for the medical examiner’s report on the deaths in order to determine whether fentanyl or its derivative contributed to the death or caused the overdose of the individuals.” 

According to federal officials, the illicit drug also known as “Mexican Oxy” has been engulfing the Southwest in recent years. The narcotics typically make their way through the southern borders, assisted by Mexican drug cartels, as reported by AP. In 2018, these opioids and other drugs were responsible for approximately 70% of all drug overdose fatalities, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

In Coconino County alone, the Arizona Department of Health Services reported 124 verified opioid overdoses over all age groups that have accumulated since June 2017. Across the state average, 19% of cases involve individuals who are 18-24 years old and an additional 44% are between 25 and 44 years old. 

Hernandez said he is worried experimentation is prevalent in the university community, and fentanyl is most commonly used by college-age individuals. FPD formed a partnership with the NAUPD to raise awareness of these concerns and to combat the sales of drugs in the local community. 

According to another report from AP, NAU Football’s offensive lineman Malik Noshi died of an opioid overdose after he ingested fentanyl and was found unresponsive in his home during a July 2019 party. The incident occurred suddenly, was believed to be purely accidental and was allegedly influenced by impaired drinking alongside the use of cocaine.

“NAU Police has also allocated an officer to join the METRO Narcotics Unit task force to proactively seek out and stop sales of drugs in the community and on campus,” Hernandez said. “The issue is becoming a serious epidemic and we are working diligently to preserve the life of our community.” 

The METRO Unit is a street crime task force responsible for investigating, arresting and prosecuting gang members and people who transport narcotics in the northern Arizona region. 

While NAUPD has yet to respond to the ongoing outbreak, the university provides different types of alcohol and drug abuse prevention programs online that feature educational health guidelines to avoid drug exposure for students. Additional information is listed on the program’s website

Freshman Mallery Holbein said she is unaware about the educational programs NAU has to offer, but said she wishes they would broadcast more opportunities available for students on and off campus. 

“I am worried about it for campus because it is a hard drug and people should not get into that,” Holbein said. “I think NAU should send out an email or video explaining the effects or anything we need to know about it.” 

While some students do not know much about narcotics distribution in the area, Hernandez said he wanted to caution everyone about what people are ingesting along with the dosage. 

According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, “In 2017, more than 47,000 Americans died as a result of an opioid overdose, including prescription opioids, heroin, and illicitly manufactured fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid. That same year, an estimated 1.7 million people in the United States suffered from substance use disorders related to prescription opioid pain relievers, and 652,000 suffered from a heroin use disorder.” 

FPD also has a proactive approach that advises the community to help report any information related to the sale of drugs within the community. These tips can often help advance investigations and can be done directly through the department or via Coconino County Silent Witness.