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9:18 AM Sat, Jan. 19th

Community mourns those dead from drug, alcohol use

Fentanyl taking lives at a faster rate

Participants of a candlelight vigil hosted in Prescott Wednesday, Dec. 12, burn papers that have the names of people who have died due to drugs or alcohol. (Max Efrein/Courier)

Participants of a candlelight vigil hosted in Prescott Wednesday, Dec. 12, burn papers that have the names of people who have died due to drugs or alcohol. (Max Efrein/Courier)

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Sonoran Prevention Works volunteer Nick Panlibuton, right, teaches Prescott residents John and Linda Lutes about how to administer naloxone, an emergency response medication used to reverse an opioid overdose, during a candlelight vigil hosted in Prescott Wednesday, Dec. 12. (Max Efrein/Courier)

When he was 17 years old, William Marchbanks lost his cousin to a heroin overdose in Flagstaff. Now 25, he just lost his close friend in Flagstaff to the same substance.

“It’s really fresh,” he said. “We were best friends since Little League.”

In the past, he would have turned to drugs and alcohol to overcome his sorrow, but being three months sober and going through a treatment program in Prescott, he’s doing his best to avoid those temptations.

“The way I’ve dealt with it is having sober people around me,” he said. “People I can actually call friends and talk about it instead of just hold everything in and getting into this depression that just isn’t good.”

Marchbanks was one of about 50 community members to participate in a candlelight vigil at the A.C. Williams Granite Creek Park in Prescott Wednesday evening, Dec. 14. Sonoran Prevention Works and Preskitt Needle Exchange co-sponsored the event to provide an opportunity for people to mourn and honor together those they have lost from drug or alcohol use.

“There’s work that needs to be done in the struggle to combat overdose deaths, but we must also take time to mourn the devastating loss of life that has come as a result of the war on drugs and opioid epidemic,” said Cassidy Calla, a local student and one of the organizers for the event.

Some in attendance were battling to overcome drug or alcohol addictions, others had lost family and friends to drug or alcohol use, and some just wanted to show their support for a struggling population within the community.

“I was a nurse for the VA for 30 years,” said Prescott resident Linda Lutes. “I worked in alcohol and drug prevention mostly, so I have a real investment in solutions. This (drug) epidemic is really scary. People get well and they do recover; but if they die, they can’t recover.”

THE PREVALENCE OF FENTANYL

The risk of death from drug use has clearly increased in recent years as more and more illicit drugs are being laced with the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl. And it’s not just heroin and other milder forms of opioids that are being laced with it.

“On pretty good authority through our fentanyl test strip program, I can tell you that almost all of the cocaine in Prescott is laced with fentanyl right now,” Coll said.

Such lacings are especially dangerous because opioids are getting into people who have zero tolerance for the narcotic, Coll said.

“That’s what a lot of people have died recently of, because they’re doing cocaine and they have no opioids in their system; they’re not opioid dependent,” she said.

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Participants of a candlelight vigil hosted in Prescott Wednesday, Dec. 12, stand for a moment of silence in honor of the many lives lost to drug- or alcohol-related deaths. (Max Efrein/Courier)

According to a recently released study by the National Center for Health Statistics, fentanyl is now considered the deadliest drug in America, with more than 18,000 overdose deaths in 2016, the most recent year for which statistics are available. The drug was responsible for 29 percent of all overdose deaths that year, up from just 4 percent in 2011.

Recognizing this, Sonoran Prevention Works was handing out both fentanyl testing strips and naloxone kits for free at the event.

“The Surgeon General says that naloxone should be in every medicine cabinet,” Coll said. “83 percent of overdoses happen in the home. If everybody had naloxone, I just think it would help.”

Anyone may acquire free fentanyl testing strips and naloxone kits by visiting Sonoran Prevention Works’ Prescott location at 154 E. Merritt St.

MATForce, 8056 E. Valley Road, Suite B, in Prescott Valley, also carries a number of the naloxone kits, as does Yavapai County Community Health Services: 1090 Commerce Drive in Prescott; 3212 Windsong Drive in Prescott Valley; and 10 S. 6th St. in Cottonwood.

#StopFentanylNow