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Flagstaff police investigates string of possible opioid deaths
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Flagstaff police investigates string of possible opioid deaths

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State health department data show that an average of two people a day in Arizona have died of opioid overdoses – both illicit drugs like heroin and fentanyl and prescripion drugs – in recent years. (Photo by Johanna Huckeba/Cronkite News)

Authorities believe two people’s death in Flagstaff over the weekend can be linked to a blue "M30" opioid pill.

The two deaths and an additional nonfatal overdose that occurred on Saturday all involved people who had either ingested the blue pill or had a small bag of them on their body, according to the Flagstaff Police Department. Authorities said people could confuse the pill with legitimate oxycodone, when it is actually more a powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl.

Flagstaff police tried to raise awareness about an uptick of opioid deaths in May, but the police agency continues to find the drug in the community. This year to date, Flagstaff police have seen 19 calls for service related to unresponsive individuals that were related to the blue M30 pills.

Flagstaff police are trained to administer naloxone, known under the brand name of Narcan, to save people overdosing in an emergency. Police have seen six suspected deaths from opioids in general, and have been able to save six people with naloxone from death by overdose, according to Charles Hernandez, spokesman for the Flagstaff Police Department.

Hernandez said the blue pills are believed to be purchased illegally, as opposed to purchasing them at a pharmacy.

“We need to work with the community to combat illegal drug sales on the street,” Hernandez said. “In the end, we hope to prevent people from overdosing and dying.”

On Saturday, police responded to two deaths and a third nonfatal overdose around the city.

The first person was pronounced dead on the scene of East Cottage Avenue, according to police information. First responders tried to save the victim, but were unsuccessful.

Police are waiting for an autopsy to show the person’s official cause of death, but investigators found blue M30 pills at the scene.

The second person was reported as being unresponsive at East Maple Avenue, and police found another bag of blue M30 pills at the scene of the person’s death. Investigators are awaiting an autopsy in the case.

A third person was reported as being unresponsive at North Grandview Drive, but was revived and transported to the hospital for additional medical treatment. Police investigators spoke with the person, who said they had taken a blue M30 pill before losing consciousness.

Hernandez said the pill isn’t impacting any part of the community differently than others.

“There’s no [pattern] in regard to who is overdosing,” Hernandez said. “It’s a matter of availability of the pill being in the community.”

Hernandez said the department believes the drugs are making their way into Arizona from the Mexico border before making their way up to Flagstaff to be distributed throughout the community, based on the work from the department’s metro narcotics task force. The task force has employed officers from the college and county law enforcement agencies to assist them in their response.

“I think identifying that there’s a problem, allocating additional resources, and partnering with college police and the county sheriff will help us combat the problem on a larger scale,” Hernandez said. “Maintaining those partnerships will pay dividends in the end.”

The Flagstaff Police Department is looking for help to prevent the drug crimes and asks anyone having information about drug-related activity to contact the Flagstaff Police Department at 928-774-1414. People looking to remain anonymous can call Silent Witness at 928-774-6111. A cash reward may be available for information leading to the identification and arrest of persons involved in crimes.

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