ARIZONA – Nexus Coalition for Drug Prevention (NCDP) has been busy the last two months, working as part of a larger coalition formed from 22 other like-minded organizations. Counterfeit pills, fentanyl and methamphetamine is the target work of NCDP and their partners. Increasing misuse, experimentation and addiction to such drugs, specifically by teenagers and young adults continues to result in overdose deaths.
“In looking at our 2020 death statistics for Navajo County, we have 23 reported overdoses, 14 (61%) of which were fentanyl overdoses,” said NCDP Director Vicky Solomon.
Last December, NCDP, the Snowflake-Taylor Police Department, Navajo County Sheriff’s Office and several other agencies held a town-hall meeting to ask residents what they knew (or didn’t know) about counterfeit pills, fentanyl and methamphetamine use in White Mountain communities.
The meeting was organized after three overdose deaths in young adults were reported in less than two months time in late 2020. Members of NCDP were acquainted with all three victims.
“I hear this all the time,” said Solomon. “Parents and adults in the community ask me, ‘What is fentanyl?’ or they say, ‘We don’t have that here; it’s only in the big cities and metro areas.’”
But the recent statistics reflect the same trend of overdose deaths from fentanyl and counterfeit opioid pills in rural and metro areas.
The information gathered by NCDP at the town hall meeting and other outreach events is being combined with what other groups in the coalition have gathered.
“We all want more awareness and outreach info about what is going on with counterfeit pills, opioids, fentanyl and methamphetamine,” said Solomon.
“We’re all asking the same questions and have provided what we know to Director of Compass Evaluation and Research, Shana Malone," said Solomon. “Shana compiled the information, spit it out and we are developing a way to increase the education and awareness about the dangers of these drugs.”
That is one of the first steps in the process to change.
Solomon said that the more NCDP interacts in the community, the more people’s eyes are opening — that is the hope.
“I think what happens is, as human beings in our homes, we think that our community is the same as our home,” said Solomon. “If you aren’t out and engaged in the community, or in the addiction or drug prevention field, you might not be aware of the severity of this problem. Sometimes we just get busy and we only know what’s happening in our homes.”
In addition to the 23 overdose deaths in 2020 in Navajo County, there were 23 suicides, according to NCDP. They work with the Navajo County Public Health Department and the Medical Examiner’s Office when possible, to obtain this and other related data.
Unfortunately, NCDP doesn’t know the ages of those that died. And, in the case of suicide, details aren’t always available. Often times, alcohol and substance abuse are factors but autopsies aren’t always performed, nor are they always required said Solomon.
NCDP will continue to work with the coalition on a number of goals including information gathering, increasing awareness and understanding the challenges of combating deaths from counterfeit pills, fentanyl and methamphetamine.
“Ultimately, we want to be able to teach these youth that these fentanyl pills are coming from Mexico,” said Solomon. “They have fentanyl inside them that will kill you in one use.”
Solomon said that disseminating information in the most effective way is part of the education process. Recently, 49 coalition members were on a conference call, tackling just that.
Has fentanyl impacted your life?
Sharing and presenting information is one task but the logistics of doing it consistently and effectively require a specific, intentional approach.
NCDP invites those that have been impacted by counterfeit pills, fentanyl or methamphetamine to contact them to share your story. They are looking for testimonials from the community. They can be in a written, video or recorded format. In some cases, NCDP may just ask questions.
Show Low Police Dept. weighs in
When NCDP held the December 2020 town hall meeting in Snowflake, the plan was to continue the same type of meeting in Show Low and Pinetop-Lakeside. However, the coalition emerged and the timeline shifted.
The Independent reached out to the Show Low Police Department (SLPD) for comment about the issue of counterfeit pills, fentanyl and methamphetamine. SLPD Chief Joe Shelley quickly responded about the seriousness of the problem.
“Members of Show Low Police Department are concerned about illegal drug use and abuse in our community. In response, we are actively working with various public and private partners to promote prevention, enforcement, and rehabilitation,” said Shelley.
“The use of illicit drugs often leads to unintended problems and consequences. Show Low, like communities across the country, has experienced the loss of community members due to accidental overdose. We recognize the loss of even one person is a tragedy, and we are committed to helping those in need.
“It may seem relatively simple, but it’s an important fact for people to remember — if you take a drug not prescribed by a doctor, that doesn’t come from a medical facility or pharmacy, you are gambling with your life! Illegal and counterfeit drugs have no regulation, and the contents are often unknown. This means one pill can have no effect, or it can kill you, but you won’t know until it’s too late!
“We urge those in our community who need help to reach out. Hospitals, community counseling, schools, law enforcement, fire services, the clergy, and many other community groups are able to help put people in touch with the resources they need, it only takes asking. For those who are in crisis, or have a family member suffering a medical emergency from overdose, please call 911 for immediate medical attention.”