Fentanyl has become a serious problem for teens and young adults in Arizona. In an effort to address the issue of opioid abuse, the Maricopa County District Attorney's Office hosted a panel Tuesday night to alert parents about the prevention and effects of the drug.
The event was held at Independence High School in Glendale, where health officials, police officers and organizations answered questions from the community about fentanyl.
The forum focused on giving advice to parents on how to talk to their children about fentanyl and the use of other drugs, as well as providing information on organizations that can assist them to overcome drug abuse and addiction.
In 2017 there were 923 opioid overdose deaths in Arizona, an average of two deaths per day. By 2021, the number exceeded 2,000 deaths, or an average of five deaths per day. Most opioid overdoses are related to fentanyl that drug dealers manufacture illegally, according to MCAO.
Young people, the target market
In some cases, kids are buying cheap pills via people they meet on social media.
Some kids believe the pills they are buying are pharmaceutical drugs like Xanax and Adderall, not knowing that they've been illegally manufactured and contain fentanyl.
Since fentanyl is so potent, some of those kids end up overdosing and even dying, which is why the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has a campaign titled "One Pill Can Kill."
Fentanyl overdose deaths among kids 17 and younger in Arizona more than doubled between 2019 and 2020.
“Know that your child is going to be offered drugs no matter what school they are in, they will always be exposed to drugs,” said Stephanie Siete, spokesperson for Community Bridges Inc., which provides resources and information for individuals struggling with drug addiction.
Fentanyl sales take place both in person and online, particularly on social media, according to MCAO, making it even more accessible for teens.
“What we are seeing is that there are people who sell drugs through Snapchat, Instagram, through their phone. There are different emojis that vendors use to sell the drug. Young people I've talked to told me they can get whatever they want through social media," said Matt Long, school resource officer for the Glendale Union High School District.
Siete added that 70% of the drugs in the community are fentanyl.
As of Sept. 6, 19 million pills have been seized in Arizona in 2022. Nationally, 20 million were confiscated just last year, according to Shelley Mowery, Demand Reduction Coordinator of Arizona High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area.
“The fact that we are a border state puts us at the storm's epicenter. We all have to be alert and know what is happening in our communities and we need to inform other people because a lot of that drug is staying in Arizona,” Mowery said.
Experts urge parents to stay vigilant
Sandra Muñoz, 36, was in the audience with her husband Jesús Mendoza, 44, and their four children between the ages of 7 and 14. Understanding the ins and outs of the drug and how to keep her children safe is her top priority. Knowing how to talk to her kids about it is also why she and her husband brought them along.
Her daughter Lizbeth, the oldest of the siblings, said she learned not to trust anyone. "I learned many things: that you shouldn't trust others, that even if they are your friends you don't know what they can give you, that you don't take anything and that you pay attention and be alert to these things," she said.
For Muñoz, attending these information sessions is necessary so that she and her husband can "get this information and talk about it with our children and tell them what is happening so that in the future they can stay away from (the drug)."
"When we ask children 'Why are you using fentanyl?' they say they are dealing with a lot of stress. So if your child feels depressed or is stressed, it is important that you talk to them about those problems," Siete said.
Siete said it was important for parents to constantly talk to their children about the dangers surrounding not just fentanyl and other opioids, but all drugs, while Long insisted parents be alert and monitor their children's activities on social media and know who they are talking to.
He also urged parents to be aware of what their children carry in their backpacks, because the drug can be hidden in places that they would never suspect, such as a candy bag.
“If you see broken straws in their backpack it is an indication that they are using fentanyl. They use metal straws instead of plastic ones because they do not hold the drug well. If you see aluminum foil in their backpacks they are signs that the person is using drugs,” he said.
When talking to children about opioid use, experts also recommend that parents establish a rescue plan or code for their children if they find themselves in an uncomfortable, difficult or dangerous situation.
"If they're at a party or at the park with friends and someone is offering them drugs, have them send you a text like 'Mom, I forgot to feed the dog.' This way you know you need to go and get them," Siete said.
Whether it's a child who may be experimenting or a loved one who is dependent on opioids, there are resources and prevention tools in Arizona to help.
Never Use Alone is a hotline operated by volunteers. Illicit drug users may call 800-484-3731 to have someone stay on the line with them while they are using and to ensure emergency medical services are called if the drug user at any point stops responding. Since it's operated by volunteers the hotline may not be available 24/7.
Parents of Addicted Loved Ones (PAL): https://palgroup.org/. The Phoenix-based organization was incorporated as a Christian-run nonprofit in 2015 and has more than two dozen groups in the Phoenix area and in Tucson. PAL may be contacted by phone at 480-300-4712 or by email at Info@palgroup.org
Grief Recovery After Substance Passing (GRASP): http://grasphelp.org/. The organization describes itself as for people who have lost someone to substance use or addiction. It has chapters in Canada and the U.S., including in Arizona.
Arizona Teen Lifeline: 800-248-TEEN (8336), which is available 24/7 and is an Arizona support line for teens operated by teens.
Sonoran Prevention Works: https://spwaz.org/. The Phoenix-based group works to improve the lives of people who use drugs through street-based outreach, organizational capacity building, and state-wide advocacy work. It offers naloxone and other supplies and conducts HIV and Hepatitis C testing events. The group may be contacted at 480-442-7886 or via email at email@example.com
The Substance Abuse Coalition Leaders of Arizona focuses on preventing substance misuse in youths: https://saclaz.org/
The Arizona Department of Health Services OARLine (Opioid Assistance + Referral Line): 888-688-4222. The state launched the OARLine line in March 2018 in partnership with Arizona’s Poison and Drug Information Centers. It's available to provide information and referrals to the public and for health care clinicians to call for free consultation on patients with complex pain or opioid use disorder.
Additional ADHS resources: https://www.azdhs.gov/opioid/
The U.S. government has a helpline for people seeking treatment at 800-662-HELP (4357) or at https://findtreatment.gov/
Arizona's Medicaid program, called the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, has an opioid treatment service locator: https://opioidservicelocator.azahcccs.gov/
The federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has a treatment locator: https://findtreatment.samhsa.gov/locator
More information about opioid use disorder and treatment for people enrolled in AHCCCS: https://www.azahcccs.gov/Members/BehavioralHealthServices/OpioidUseDisorderAndTreatment/index.html
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has a One Pill Can Kill campaign: https://www.dea.gov/onepill
Republic reporter Stephanie Innes contributed to this article.
Reach La Voz reporter Nadia Cantú at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @nadia_cantu.
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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: MCAO urges parents to stay vigilant, talk to children about fentanyl abuse