A sobering statistic.
According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in Arizona, the leading cause of death for those between the ages of 15-44, in the United States, is drug overdoses.
That's based off of the most recent data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The CDC estimates more than 107,000 people died from a drug overdose in a 12-month period (Feb 1, 2021 - Jan 31, 2022).
67% of overdose deaths involved synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, a drug the DEA tells ABC15 is the primary driver of overdose poisonings.
This drug, though, is also claiming lives of even younger Arizonans.
Amy Neville knows this all too well after fentanyl, one of the deadliest opioids ever created, took her boy two years ago.
“My son is Alexander Neville,” she told ABC15.
Amy, showing us videos and pictures of her son. The only things she has left of him, other than the memories they shared.
“Alex was our noise in our house,” she added.
Laughs, hugs and memories she feels robbed of, as a mom.
“Alex will forever be fourteen. I just want to touch his face,” she said, holding back the tears.
Amy says Alex was a smart and vibrant kid with a bright future ahead of him but fentanyl took it all away.
“That one pill is all it took to take him away from us,” she added.
At the time Alex was taking what he thought was oxycodone. His parents were in the dark until one day he opened up.
“He told us he connected with his dealer through Snapchat and it was very easy to get. It really had a hold on him and he didn’t understand why,” Amy told ABC15.
Alex came to his parents with a plan. He wanted to get better.
“So that following morning I called the treatment place. And we told him we were going to get him help. That it was going to be okay. I had no idea how not okay it was going to be,” said Amy, with tears rolling down her face.
The next morning…
“I knocked on his door and there was no answer and instantly I knew something was wrong. I opened the door to his bedroom and he looked like he just fell asleep on his beanbag chair. And he was blue. And he wasn’t breathing. And he was cold,” said Amy.
His dad immediately started CPR compressions.
Amy called 911.
“But it was too late. They pronounced him dead at 9:59 that day. That morning, and four minutes later I got the call from the treatment center,” she said, with a look of defeat in her face.
The cause of death: acute fentanyl toxicity.
“Fentanyl was the only thing in his system. He had enough to kill four people in his blood,” Amy told ABC15.
“He was poisoned?” we asked.
“Mhm. Absolutely poisoned,” she responded.
Special Agent Cheri Oz has worked with the Drug Enforcement Agency for the last two decades.
“We’re just seeing it now in Arizona where we’re seeing Fentanyl in other drugs mixed within,” she told ABC15.
She says in 2016 the DEA didn’t seize any fentanyl in Arizona.
In 2017 it started becoming a trend.
“That’s our biggest threat right now. So far this year we’ve seized over 8-million fentanyl pills. Last year we seized over 12-million fentanyl pills,” said Oz.
She says fentanyl is everywhere these days.
“The problem has gone from nonexistent to being something we’re being overrun with,” said the Special Agent.
Oz says social media is also changing the game.
“20 years ago, you would have to leave the house. Go find a drug trafficker. Go find a dealer. Present real-life cash money to your drug trafficker. Now it’s just a matter of keystrokes and you can do it from your phone. In your own living room and you can have it delivered right to your front door,” she said.
Oz said fentanyl can be put into any pill.
“It can look like Adderall, it can look like Xanax, it can look like any pill you might buy, illicitly. We estimate the dose at about two milligrams would be the lethal dose,” said Oz.
“Alex thought he was taking a single oxycodone. He was deceived to death,” said Amy.
“He didn’t know,” said ABC15’s Luzdelia Caballero.
“He had no idea,” she responded.
Special Agent Oz says it’s an epidemic driven by greed.
“The price of the fentanyl pills is extraordinarily low. Dangerously low. The profit margin on these pills is extraordinary,” Oz told ABC15.
She says fentanyl is highly addictive, turning it into the new cash cow for the Sinaloa Cartel.
“They have super labs throughout Mexico. They get their precursor drugs that they purchase from China mostly, and some regard India. They make those precursors into highly potent and not quality controlled synthetic opioids,” she added.
The DEA says this cartel is responsible for making, distributing and selling these pills.
Those dangerous pills, that don’t have quality control, are claiming lives in Arizona.
“These are families that can never be put back together,” said Special Agent OZ
“It’s haunting. It’s just something I don’t wish on anyone. That’s for sure,” added
Amy has started the Alexander Neville Foundation to educate people about the dangers of fentanyl, in hopes of saving lives.