Arizona Continues Battling Deadly Counterfeit Fentanyl Pills Smuggled By Drug Cartels

Caption: Counterfeit Percocet pills seized by police
Source: Bibb County Sheriff’s Office

KVOA in Tucson, Arizona reported that new preliminary numbers show that more Arizonans are overdosing on fentanyl than heroin, and more and more teens are testing positive for having the drug in their system. According to Dr. Rahul Chawla, a pediatrician at Banner Thunderbird’s Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, these teenagers are not addicts. They take what they think are legitimate prescription drugs, but they are counterfeits made with fentanyl, and the results can be deadly.

The number of overdosing teenagers brought to Dr. Chawla’s emergency room is on a scale he has never seen before. Dr. Chawla said, “They’re popping tablets or pills not knowing what they are or thinking they’re one thing, might just pop one and take it thinking it’s something.” Dr. Adam Bosak, a toxicologist at Banner Thunderbird, said, “The vast majority of the time they have no idea it’s fentanyl.” He warned that: “This can happen to anybody’s children, and it has.”

In just the past few weeks, two families in the state came forward to share their stories of loved ones taken from them by counterfeit fentanyl pills. KSAZ Fox 10 in Phoenix reported on the death of 21-year-old Moises Felix on the tenth of November. Relatives said that Felix took a pill given to him at a party that he thought was a Percocet but turned out to be a fake laced with fentanyl. Family member Miguel Perez called the situation “a horrible mistake.” On sharing the family’s loss, Perez said, “I don’t know or understand why this happened, but if it’s to bring awareness and one person gets saved, it was worth it.”

According to People Magazine, Brandi Nishnick of Prescott Valley issued a warning to parents about the dangers of teens taking pills. Her 19-year-old nephew, Gunner Bundrick, and his best friend, Jake Morales, overdosed and died on the third of November after taking counterfeit Percocet pills believed to be laced with fentanyl. In a passionate Facebook post, Nishnick stated: “Gunner’s story could very well save your child’s life so please, share his story.” At the time of publication, this post had garnered one million shares.

U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) spokesperson in Phoenix Erica Curry stated that China was the source for most of the fentanyl coming into the U.S., but issued a warning: “The Mexican cartels have begun generating and manufacturing fentanyl products on their own.” Curry warned that counterfeit pills look identical to legitimate ones, but there is no way to tell how much fentanyl is in each pill. “This is how scary this product is. This is how much is coming across the border. And this why we’re trying to warn everybody don’t take any of these substances,” Curry explained. Being a border state, the DEA stated that Arizona sees more fentanyl than the some parts of the country. To read about other counterfeit drug incidents, please read PSM’s 2018 Arizona Infosheet.