PHOENIX — It is a drug that is 100 times stronger than morphine and 50 times stronger than heroin. In a medical setting, it is used in very small amounts to help treat pain, but on the streets of Arizona, it is a drug that is highly abused, leading to more than 2,000 overdose deaths in 2020 alone.
Justin Lawson knows how deadly and addictive fentanyl can be firsthand. He overdosed on the drug at least three times and had to be “brought back” to life with the overdose reversal drug, Narcan. “One minute I was sitting there, the next minute I was waking up with paramedics over me. It happened so fast, I didn’t even know it was happening,” said Lawson.
Because it is so cost-effective and addictive, Lawson said illegal drug manufacturers were lacing other drugs like prescription pills, crack cocaine, and meth with fentanyl to make them more potent and more addictive. “You build up a tolerance to it extremely fast, so you need more and more,” said Lawson. “They’re putting it in everything in just smaller amounts to get people addicted to it,” he added.
At one point in his life, Lawson was so addicted to drugs, he said that is all he thought about; chasing that high was all he was concerned about from the moment he woke up, to the moment he crashed. Over the last few years, the number of fentanyl pills seized by local, state, and federal law enforcement authorities has increased. In Arizona in 2020 alone, the DEA seized more than six million fentanyl pills. That number is significantly higher than the 1.6 million pills seized in 2019. Because it is so addictive, authorities say demand for the illegal drug has increased, and now, so have the number of overdoses, as well as overdose deaths.
“Fentanyl will kill you immediately. Other drugs will pretty much kill you slowly,” said Lawson. He is now clean and working as a program coordinator at the drug addiction treatment center Crossroads, helping others who are battling addiction. It took Lawson multiple times in “rehab” to succeed, and he hopes others are inspired by his story. “I just hope that they get the opportunity to get another chance like I did, to try and get it the next time,” said Lawson. He credits having a strong support system of medical professionals, therapists, staff members, friends, family, and other recovering addicts around him, for helping him get through to the other side.
Thank you Justin Lawson for helping us speak out and spread the message of hope. And don’t forget, you can help prevent an overdose by carrying Narcan (naloxone). Pick it up at Sonoran Prevention Works or at our Crossroads corporate office!