AZ Police Guess Every Pill Sold On The Street Contains A Lethal Drug | CBS 5 investigation
CBS 5 INVESTIGATION (CBS 5) – A little blue pill, supposed to look like Percocet, is wreaking havoc in communities in Arizona. It kills teenagers and leaves others with lasting brain damage. And the problem is likely to worsen, according to multiple interviews with police, firefighters and medical professionals monitoring the situation.
The pills, known in the street as “M-30”, contain fentanyl. It is a synthetic opioid, which is 100 times more potent than morphine, according to Dr. Frank LoVecchio of the Banner Poison and Drug Information Center.
“Now we see it every day,” LoVecchio said.
He compares taking an M-30 to playing Russian roulette.
“The one you’re going to die of. The one you’re not going to die of. And you rely on a drug dealer to actually be a chemist,” LoVecchio said.
The problem is, no two pills are the same as they are believed to be made in garages or underground labs in Mexico.
“From what the kids told me, it’s southern Mexico. You know, they’re made over there in a lab,” said Benjamin Gomez, who is a police officer in the city of San Luis, which is located on the border with Mexico in southwestern Arizona.
“The thing is, there’s a chemist out there who puts every little drop in these pills. And sometimes more than a drop goes in there and that pill will cause that (overdose),” Gomez said.
Gomez is currently assigned as the School Resources Manager for San Luis High School. Her main responsibility is to keep the M-30 pills out of school because San Luis is experiencing a fentanyl epidemic.
Over the past year, this small town of 35,000 people has experienced 16 overdoses attributed to fentanyl. In the first month and a half of this year, police and firefighters have already responded to 15 overdoses.
“We already had one death, a 17-year-old kid who overdosed,” said Lt. Marco Santana, of the San Luis Police Department.
He says the pills are easy to smuggle across the border and readily available on the streets.
“From what we’ve gathered, it costs around $ 10 to $ 12 per pill,” Santana said.
What is most alarming for people in this community is who takes the pills and dies from them.
“In fact, the majority of calls were to teenagers. We are looking at the high school population, 15, 16 and 17,” said Luis Cabreros, firefighter and paramedic with the San Luis Fire Department.
While San Luis may be experiencing an extreme effect from the fentanyl epidemic, it is by no means affecting just this part of the state.
M-30 overdose deaths have been reported in Tucson, Prescott Valley and Phoenix. A police officer handling the cases told CBS 5 Investigates that police now assume that every pill sold on the street contains fentanyl.
“Unfortunately, the M-30 stamp makes a Percocet appear. However, if you take it off the streets, you don’t know it,” said Schmid, poison informatics coordinator at the Banner Poison and Drug Information Center. .
Schmid believes some patients who had their prescriptions filled by pain doctors are now looking for drugs on the streets because the opioid crackdown in Arizona has made it harder to get drugs legally.
Law enforcement officials tell CBS 5 Investigates that the Sinaloa drug cartel saw a business opportunity. With fewer legitimate OxyContins and Percocets on the street, there was an opening for their counterfeit drugs made with cheaper fentanyl.
Some of the pills are made in Mexico, smuggled into the United States through ports of entry, usually in semi-trailers or cars, and then distributed through a network of dealers and pushers, according to police.
Two weeks ago, a student at prestigious Notre Dame Preparatory School in north Scottsdale was arrested after being accused of providing an M-30 pill to another student who overdosed but is expected to recover .
The first responders administered NARCAN to this student, but Dr LoVecchio says using the opioid antidote does not always mean that everything will be okay for the person who overdosed. Fentanyl shuts down a user’s respiratory system, so an overdose cuts off oxygen to the brain.
“If you’ve been down for more than four to five minutes, there’s a good chance you’ve got some degree of brain damage and you’re not the same,” LoVecchio said.
The Yuma Union High School District, which governs San Luis High School, recently took the extraordinary step of equipping NARCAN’s school health units. This decision saved the life of at least one student.
More than 750 parents showed up at a recent San Luis High School PTO meeting, where fentanyl was the order of the day.
“Parents were wondering if the school could check the backpacks, if the police could bring the dog units to the school,” said Ruben Escobar, who is the head of the PTO.
Escobar says meetings are usually small, but this one was different because of the topic.
“This is for sure an epidemic that we face in our small community,” Escobar said.
It is an epidemic that the entire state may be starting to contend with.
If you or someone you know needs help or wants information about fentanyl or opioids in general, you can reach the Arizona Opioid Help and Referral Line at 1.888.688.4222.