Arizona State Senator Christine Marsh is speaking out about a very personal loss that has inspired her to come up with legislation that she hopes will help save lives.
Marsh lost her son, 25-year-old Landon Marsh after he accidentally overdosed on a pill that was laced with the deadly drug, fentanyl.
"He was really remarkable," said Marsh describing her son as a brilliant man with a very creative mind.
"He had just gotten married, he was getting his mechanical engineering degree, and had a night of what I call 'stupidity' with his childhood best friend," said Marsh.
She stressed that her son was not an addict, but in May 2020 he decided to take a Percocet pill, not knowing it was laced with fentanyl.
"It's hard to talk about without getting emotional," said Marsh, adding that the tragedy put opioid abuse at the forefront of her agenda. It was already something she was concerned about as an educator, seeing the firsthand effects of drugs on her students.
Like many of his peers, Marsh said her son made a bad choice that night, one that cost him his life.
"For most people, that basic drug experimentation is part of the teen experience, and that can no longer happen," said Marsh.
"I think the wake-up call for me was how often the fentanyl is nefariously inserted into other pills, Percocet or Xanax or whatever it might be," she added.
NotMYKid, a Valley non-profit dedicated to working with families to raise healthy children, is tackling the fentanyl problem as well.
Shane Watson, a spokesperson for the organization, said not a week goes by when they do not hear of a young teen dying of a deadly overdose.
Watson said the fentanyl-laced pills are typically sold on the streets by low-level drug dealers to unsuspecting teens and adults who were chasing a quick "high."
"Cartels are able to use pill presses. They can make these pills the right shape, color, and put branded logos on it, so someone will think they've got the Xanax, the Klonopin, or the Oxycontin," said Watson.
"A lot of times these kids, who are dying from these, are getting them from peers, classmates, or purchasing them from social media," he added.
The numbers are alarming. "Overdose fatalities in Maricopa County had nearly doubled in 2020 compared to 2019, and part of that is the availability of fentanyl," said Watson.
Marsh said it is important to spread the message within the community. "I think it's a lesson that not even one single pill is safe. You can't take anything anymore" said the state senator.
To help save lives, Marsh has introduced a bill that would legalize fentanyl testing strips.
Senate Bill 1486 would remove the "drug paraphernalia" classification they now fall under, so those using these potentially lifesaving strips, would not have to worry about facing drug charges.
Like Naloxone, or Narcan was legalized for community distribution a few years ago, Marsh hopes the testing strips will someday be sold at local pharmacies.
She is against illegal drug use but said, for those who are going to go down that path anyway, at least this is one way to help prevent more fatal overdoses from taking place.
Sonoran Prevention Works is now working to get fentanyl testing strips into the hands of those in need.
Fentanyl is a very potent drug that can kill a person by stopping their breathing. "All it takes is an amount resembling a few grains of salt," according to Watson.
Here are some more alarming statistics released by NotMYKid.
- 1,752 overdose deaths were reported in Maricopa County 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.
- Nearly 80% of kids in Arizona who are misusing prescription drugs get them from friends, family, or right out of the home.
- 57% of Arizona teens say their parents have never talked with them about ways to turn down or avoid drugs.
The non-profit organization is hosting a Webinar for the community on Thursday, March 4 to talk about the dangers of fentanyl, resources available in the community and to also inform the community about steps being taken to help save lives.