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Tucson Police seize more than 100 fentanyl-laced pills

Posted at 10:55 PM, Jun 14, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-15 20:09:40-04

Tucson Police seized 135 fake oxycodone pills laced with fentanyl from a house on the westside.

On May 31, officers were on a welfare check at a home on the 3100 block of N. Romero Road when they found the pills and a man in his 60's who had died. 

TPD says someone had called and was concerned for his well-being. After serving a search warrant, officers found the pills in the console of his car and large amounts of meth in the home.

The pills appear to be oxycodone, but after an analysis Tucson Police found they are a combination of acetaminophen, caffeine, and fentanyl.

Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid. It was developed in the 1960's and is now commonly prescribed to cancer patients and administered thorough a patch on the skin. It's 50 times stronger than morphine.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most of the recent fentanyl related overdose deaths involve the illicitly manufactured drug.

Lt. James Scott with TPD says it can be dangerous because it's often cut with other drugs and the users don't know they are taking it.

"It's commonly put into heroin. It's called 'China White,'" Scott said. "They've been doing it back east for years. The problem is if you don't know what kind of Fentanyl you've got, the strength of it, you put too much in some of it it can cause death and it has."

The drug is part of an overall increase in opioid drug abuse. Overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids, including fentanyl, increased 80% from 2013 to 2014

According to the Pima County Medical Examiner's Office, there were 7 fentanyl related deaths in the county in 2014, and 17 in 2015. 

A Minnesota medical examiner says Prince died of an accidental fentanyl overdose.

Scott says they want the public to know officers are finding an increase in painkillers and other drugs laced with fentanyl.

"They're going to play Russian roulette if they take pills of this nature," Scott said. "When these pills are made they are not made in a lab, and the measurements of fentanyl put in these pills could vary from pill to pill. It could be one pill out of ten that could potentially kill you."

It's also troubling for first responders, Scott said, because the drug can be absorbed in the skin. Experts say an amount that's just a few grains of sand can kill you.

Tucson Police will soon start training all of their officers to administer naxlone. It's a prescription that can help treat a narcotic overdose in an emergency situation.

Fentanyl typically is made in Mexico and brought into the U.S., Scott said, and sometimes it's shipped from China into Mexico.

While there have been a number of seizures across the state, Scott says they haven't yet found fentanyl in it's pure form in Southern Arizona. 

About six months ago TPD found a batch of pills similar to the recent seizure.

It's unclear how the man in this recent case died. It doesn't appear to be suspicious, and he didn't suffer any trauma.

Officers will have to wait for toxicology reports to know the official cause of death.