Forty-five people in the county died last year after overdosing on fentanyl, up for the 28 deaths the year before, according to Maricopa County Public Health Department.
Fentanyl, a synthetic prescription pain killer that is similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent, has become a street drug leaving a trail of overdoses and deaths.
"The increase in fentanyl deaths are a nationwide trend," said Jeanene Fowler, Public Health spokeswoman. "According to our Epidemiology team, we haven’t looked at contributing factors for our data just yet, but there are plenty of resources about the developing opioid epidemic, its shift to heroin as a result of cost and availability, and the introduction of fentanyl as an adulterant."
The department does not have the tally for fentanyl deaths to date for 2016. Ms. Fowler said it is hard to predict if the number will increase or not.
"There has been more money coming from the federal government to battle the opioid crisis but it is unclear if this will continue," she said. "Our governor is very committed to this issue and as such, the Governor’s Office of Youth, Faith and Families is leading this effort on behalf of the state. Together along with organizations from across the state, we are working toward the strategies outlined in our state toolkit."
The toolkit can be found at http://www.azcjc.gov/ACJC.Web/Rx/toolkit.aspx
Glendale Police has not seen the drug take hold in the city.
"We have not seen any rise or rash of incidents involving fentanyl," police spokesman Scott Waite said.
To help combat the growing epidemic, Gov. Doug Ducey in October signed an executive order limiting the first prescription of any opioid such as fentanyl, Vicodin and OxyContin, to no more than seven days for those with state health plans and those insured by the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System or AHCCCS, the state’s Medicaid for low-income residents. The limit does not include cases of cancer, chronic diseases or traumatic injury.
In the order, it was noted that Arizona ranked the ninth highest in the nation for opioid deaths.
"This action is essential to help prevent future drug addictions," Gov. Ducey said in a released statement. "The numbers are staggering. In 2015, 401 people in Arizona – more than one a day – died from prescription opioid overdoses. And in 2013 there were enough prescription pain medications dispensed to medicate every adult in Arizona around the clock for two weeks."
And in July, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration issued a warning that hundreds of thousands of counterfeit prescription pills, many containing deadly amounts of fentanyl and fentanyl-related compounds, have made their way into the U.S. drug market. Fentanyl and fentanyl-related compounds are traditionally mixed into or sold as heroin, or on its own, oftentimes without the customer’s knowledge.
According to the DEA, law enforcement nationwide are reporting higher fentanyl availability, seizures, and known overdose deaths than at any other time since the drug’s creation in 1959.
Overseas labs in China are mass-producing fentanyl and fentanyl-related compounds and marketing them to drug-trafficking groups in Mexico, Canada and the United States, the DEA said.
During 2013-14, the Centers for Disease Control reported deaths from synthetic opioids increased 79 percent, from 3,097 to 5,544.