SHOW LOW — Illegal and sometimes deadly use of fentanyl that can kill in small doses is nothing new to the White Mountains.
The most recent bust by law enforcement of a huge quantity of counterfeit fentanyl pills happened Thursday Feb. 11 in Show Low when Navajo County Sheriff's Office deputies and Major Crimes Apprehension Team (MCAT) detectives arrested 19-year-old Tucson resident James Axel Gonzalez on charges of possession/use of narcotic drugs, possession of narcotic drugs for sale and transportation of narcotic drugs for sale.
The drugs they confiscated are considered "counterfeit" because they are not produced by any prescription drug manufacturer and because the makers of the counterfeit pills put whatever they want into them, including deadly levels of fentanyl.
“Fentanyl is a powerful pain medication. It is an opioid, like morphine, codeine, oxycodone and methadone. Fentanyl is up to 100 times stronger than morphine and is extremely dangerous when not used in a prescribed manner and under the direction of a medical doctor. Because fentanyl is so strong, the difference between a dose that will get a person high and a dose that will cause death is very small,” NCSO Public Information Officer Tori Gorman included in a press release announcing the bust.
On Feb. 11 an NCSO deputy with the Criminal Interdiction Unit along with detectives with MCAT who were conducting a drug possession and transportation investigation took at least 50,000 fentanyl pills off the streets, out of the black market, and out of the hands of users.
The NCSO confiscated 6.1 pounds of “suspected” fentanyl pills with an estimated street value of more than $1 million.
Not only did they keep the fentanyl off the streets while likely saving the lives of some addicts, they also confiscated five ounces of heroin which is once again making a comeback in society because it is easy to make, cheap to addicts, and therefore very profitable for those who peddle it.
The day before the NCSO made the Feb. 11 bust, Show Low Police Officers arrested a 22-year-old Concho woman and a 25-year-old Show Low man, both allegedly in possession of fentanyl pills on Wednesday Feb. 10 at a local shopping plaza.
The man was reportedly witnessed smoking fentanyl in his vehicle in the parking lot of a local sports store before police arrived and arrested the couple.
Then on Monday, Feb. 15 the SLPD busted a 28-year-old Lakeside woman who allegedly had fentanyl pills and used syringes for injecting it in a lockbox that a K9 alerted to resulting in her arrest for possession of dangerous drugs and possession of dangerous drug paraphernalia.
NCSO Sheriff David Clouse had some advice and a warning for those who might be tempted to use counterfeit fentanyl while also noting that its use covers a wide age group.
“We are seeing the use of fentanyl by a wide age group, from as young as 15 years old to 70 years old. Fentanyl is highly addictive and extremely dangerous. Users do not know what they are getting, it is like playing Russian roulette every time a person uses fentanyl. I am very pleased with the aggressive, proactive efforts the MCAT detectives are conducting every day in the communities in Navajo County to attempt to rid this poison from our communities,” Clouse is quoted in the press release from Gorman.