TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Approximately 5,000 counterfeit pills were pulled off the streets of Tucson in 2016, according to the Counter Narcotics Alliance.
The pills, designed to look like legitimate painkillers from a pharmacy, are not the result of a prescription. Captain John Leavitt with the CNA said the pills are illegally made in southern Arizona or in Mexico with the deadly substance fentanyl.
Fentanyl is considered to be up to 100 times more potent than heroin.
Leavitt said some fake pills were seized near the end of 2015 but not in the quantities that law enforcement found in 2016. Even with the increase in black market pills, Leavitt said police are more interested in helping addicts than arresting them.
"We're trying to get them into recovery," he said. "We're trying to reduce the opportunities people have to become addicted through enforcement opportunities and keep people from selling these kinds of drugs."
The Tucson Police Department is one of four in Arizona where officers are trained to use and are equipped with Narcan. The nasal spray is used on a person who has overdosed on opioids.
The department announced that officers would be carrying the drug at the end of November 2015. By Dec. 6, an officer successfully used Narcan on a man who overdosed on heroin, according to police reports.
Whether heroin, fakes pills or any other opioid has been used, Narcan can save lives, according to Lt. Chris Wildblood with CNA.
He said the alliance would like to see Narcan in popular places around the city like university, 4th Avenue and downtown Tucson where people might be mixing opioids with alcohol.
"We're not there to judge them about their drug use," he said. "We save lives and this is one of the products that we use now to do it."
Narcan currently requires a prescription to purchase, but Wildblood said the CNA is closely watching developments by state lawmakers to pass a bill
that would allow the spray to be bought over the counter and kept at homes and businesses.
It would be another step in the right direction for a collaborative effort by law enforcement, treatment centers and the general public, according to Wildblood.
"Everybody's honestly trying to come together to combat this," he said. "There's no one simple approach to solving it. It has to be an entire effort by the community to combat it, otherwise people are going to continue to die."
Copyright 2017 Tucson News Now. All rights reserved.