TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Routine testing for the deadly substance fentanyl could help law enforcement and researchers better understand the distribution of the drug, according to the Arizona Poison and Drug Information Center.
Fentanyl is considered to be 50 - 100 times stronger than heroin. Overdose deaths of fentanyl have made headlines across the country, but Dr. Keith Boesen, the center's director, said fentanyl is not as prevalent in southern Arizona as it is in other parts of the country.
He said that doesn't mean the drug isn't here, but there just isn't enough information available on the spread of it.
Fentanyl doesn't show up on a typical urinalysis, according to Boesen. He said it takes an additional step in the process that is only performed when requested.
Without testing, Boesen said someone sick from fentanyl could be confused with heroin or other opioids.
"The need to know whether it's fentanyl, heroin, morphine, or oxycodone doesn't change whether or not they give the antidote," he said. "What it does change is our understanding of what caused the problem and how we can better address it in the communities moving forward."
That understanding could benefit law enforcement, according to Boesen.
Earlier this year, Tucson Police Department seized fake pills that were laced with fentanyl. Homeland Security Investigations stopped a tractor trailer at the border believed to be full of cocaine, according to Francisco Burrola, HSI Deputy Special Agent in Charge - Tucson.
He said what field teams thought was cocaine tested positive for pure fentanyl.
Safety is a top priority with drugs busts because of the potential that its laced with fentanyl, according to Burrola. He echoed Boesen's statement that the substance is not a popular in southern Arizona.
Boesen said more frequent testing for the drug can help law enforcement and doctors stay ahead of the curve when it comes to combating the distribution of fentanyl and any potential deaths from it.