Pima County saw its worst year ever for overdoses in 2023, with over 500 deaths, 309 of which were linked to the popular opioid fentanyl.

With the opioid crisis escalating nationwide, Pima County finds itself confronting a disturbing trend: a surge in overdose-related deaths among seniors, according to a recent report from the Pima County Health Department and the County Medical Examiner’s Office.

Mark Person, a public health program manager at the Pima County Health Department, expressed concern over the rising numbers, noting, “Many of the decedents in this age group have cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity. All of those can increase the risk of poor health outcomes when combined with drug use, and particularly when combined with stimulants like cocaine, methamphetamine, et cetera.”

The statistics are alarming: from 2017 to 2023, 393 individuals aged 60 to 69 succumbed to overdose-related deaths in Pima County. What’s more troubling is the sharp increase from 32 deaths in 2017 to 103 deaths in 2023.

Highlighting the evolving nature of the crisis, Greg Hess, chief medical examiner for Pima County, emphasized, “No one is really lacing other opiates with fentanyl anymore. Its manufactured in pure form and sold that way.”

This sentiment echoes earlier findings, which indicated a shift in drug consumption patterns, with individuals actively seeking out fentanyl rather than it being added to other drugs.

Fentanyl, a potent synthetic opioid, plays a central role in this crisis. Person elaborated on its dangers, stating, “Fentanyl is also dangerous because of how addicting it is, the rapid onset, and the short half-life. A person who is addicted needs to use 10 to 12 times a day to maintain their addiction.”

The accessibility and potency of fentanyl pose significant challenges in combating the crisis. Dr. Hess expressed uncertainty about the prospects of improvement, stating, “I dont have any objective information to say that its getting better.”

Amid these challenges, education and access to resources are crucial. Person emphasized the importance of Narcan, a medication used to reverse opioid overdoses, and urged individuals to be vigilant about the contents of their drugs.

Moving forward, Person underscored the importance of seeking help and exploring various treatment options. “There is no one size fits all when it comes to getting clean,” he said.

As Pima County continues to grapple with the devastating impacts of opioid overdoses, Person says proactive measures and community support are essential in addressing this public health crisis.