A troubling trend revealed itself in 2020 regarding the increase in Maricopa County drug overdose deaths compared to 2019.
Countywide, 1,752 overdose deaths were reported in 2020, with another 550 cases under investigation.
That number is nearly double the total of overdose deaths in Maricopa County in 2019, which was 1,078.
The sharp increase year-over-year can be traced to a multitude of causes, according to Cheri Oz, who is a special agent in charge for the Phoenix field division for the Drug Enforcement Agency.
One reason that Oz stated for the increase is the low price of deadly barbiturates like fentanyl that are highly addictive.
“[Fentanyl] is a cheap item to have. It is a cheap drug to purchase. It is cheap to make. And that it can be put into other drugs,” Oz said. “I think we have accidental addicts and accidental overdoses because people believe that they’re purchasing something else.”
Oz said that drugs like fentanyl are especially dangerous as they get people hooked and are deadly to the user in the long run.
“It’s a good business model, it keeps you coming back to the same supplier because you’re willing to pay whatever price to continue to feed your addiction,” Oz said.
“It’s a horrible price when you think about what it costs: what it costs your community, what it costs your parents, what it costs your children. It’s a price that nobody would pay if they knew how much it really was.”
Oz added that the current COVID-19 pandemic is playing a role in the drastic rise in drug overdose deaths for a number of reasons, including the lack of social interaction that many are currently experiencing.
“We have a new normal which consists of not normal things, like not seeing each other or being able to touch other people,” Oz said. “And humans thrive off of personal interaction. When we have none of that, people will look for other ways to fulfill their needs.”
The rise in overdose deaths in Arizona mirrors the patterns seen nationally.
A CDC study earlier this year found that 81,230 drug overdose deaths occurred in the United States in a 12-month period ending in May 2020, representing the largest number of drug overdoses over a 12-month period ever recorded.
That surge in overdose deaths have led those like Oz to turn their focus to the steps that can be taken at a community level to prevent overdose deaths from continuing to rise.
Above all, Oz believes that those communities should take on the overdose surge by teaching people about the risks that come with being addicted to drugs like fentanyl.
“And any kind of illicit drug starts off very cheap,” Oz said. “It’s important that we educate our children, educate our communities about the dangers of falling into that trap.”