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Fentanyl seizures in Arizona climbing at astronomical rate

Fentanyl is a narcotic that is typically administered to people with chronic pain, including end-stage cancer patients. It is also used as an anesthetic. It is considered 80 times more powerful than morphine and can kill by inhibiting breathing. (AP Photo/Tom Gannam, File)

Fentanyl seizures in Arizona are going through the roof.

The statistics are staggering: Just a half pound was seized in 2015. That jumped to 62 pounds seized in 2016. And in data obtained by KTAR, seizures by US Drug Enforcement Agents in Arizona have skyrocketed to 63 pounds in only the first six months of 2017.

“We’ve seen a sharp increase in fentanyl seizures in Arizona, and it is truly frightening,” said Erica Curry with the DEA Phoenix Division. “As we see the opioid epidemic continue to evolve, the addicts are seeking more and more powerful chemicals.”

And the Mexican cartels and drug dealers are meeting that demand, she said.

Just over one pound equals more than 500,000 lethal doses, with the least potent fentanyl dose being somewhere between 50 and 100 times more powerful than morphine, she said.

“So we’re encouraging all law enforcement partners in the state of Arizona and across the country,” Curry said. “To be cognizant of these unknown white powdery substances.”

What’s worse, she said, is law enforcement is not only coming across fentanyl in the course of various normal investigations, but officers can come across the drug during something as routine as a traffic stop.

“We are actually having our agents suit-up in what looks essentially like a moon suit,” she said. “These powders are so potent that by getting a couple of grains of salt worth of this substance on your skin, or if maybe you breathe the powder in through the air, it can cause an overdose and it can kill you.”

DEA agents and even law enforcement officers on the street are now carrying naloxone to prevent overdose fatalities for themselves.

“This stuff is deadly, and this stuff will kill and it just takes a very small amount,” Curry said. “So whatever we need to do to protect ourselves, that’s what law enforcement and that’s what the community really needs to be aware of.”

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