Drug and Alcohol Abuse Trends in Arizona in 2019-2020

As home to the Grand Canyon, Arizona is known and loved for its natural beauty, colorful landscape, and national and state parks. An outdoor haven, the state has plenty of activities you can enjoy. Hiking, camping, biking, backpacking, kayaking, and white water rafting are just a few of the adventures Arizona has to offer. However, as beautiful as Arizona is, the state also has a dark side: an excessive amount of drug and alcohol use. The widespread availability and use of prescription painkillers, alcohol, and “street drugs” have led to a startling number of substance use disorders in the state. Here are some of the drug and alcohol abuse trends in Arizona we’re working to combat.

The Rise of Fentanyl and Opioid Overdose Deaths

One of Arizona’s most devastating drug and alcohol abuse trends is the state’s alarming rise in opioid overdose deaths. More than 3 Arizonans a day have died from opioid overdose in the last two years. Although all types of opioids have contributed to this increase, fentanyl was the most commonly used opioid painkiller in 2019 and 2020. The synthetic opioid, which is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, has greatly contributed to the number of opioid deaths in Arizona. “The size of a few grains of salt of fentanyl…can kill a person very quickly,” Nogales Customs & Border Patrol (CBP) Port Director Michael Humphries said.

Unfortunately, Arizona’s geographical location has made trafficking fentanyl pills into the state fairly easy.

The proliferation of these pills trafficked into the U.S. by Mexican cartels and the sheer number of fentanyl pills seized in Arizona is alarming,” Doug Coleman, Special Agent in Charge of the Phoenix Division of the Drug Enforcement Administration stated.

In 2019:

  • CBP officials in Phoenix, Arizona announced their biggest fentanyl bust ever, capturing nearly 254 pounds of the synthetic drug. The fentanyl was found in a secret compartment inside a load of Mexican produce on the way to Arizona¹.
  • A 26-year-old man was arrested after CBP officers found 3 pounds of heroin, 7 pounds of cocaine, and more than 7 pounds of fentanyl in the floorboard of his Chevrolet Silverado².
  • CBP officers arrested a 27-year-old man after he attempted to hide 2 ½ pounds of fentanyl pills inside bags of chips and in a cup of shredded beef. The estimated worth of the fentanyl was $25,000².

In 2020:

  • CBP officers found nearly 3 pounds of cocaine, 4 pounds of fentanyl, and about 11 pounds of heroin in rainbow-colored figurines that resembled iguanas. A 37-year-old woman was driving the plaster statues into Arizona at the Nogales border crossing².
  • At the Nogales Arizona port, CBP officers found nearly 91 pounds of methamphetamine and more than a pound of fentanyl hidden in a man’s Lincoln SUV².
  • Border officers found more than 30 pounds of cocaine and a quarter-pound of fentanyl hidden in the floorboards of a car².

Increase in Drug-Related Overdoses Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic

In addition to high amounts of drug trafficking, the COVID-19 pandemic has also caused drug-related overdoses in Arizona to rise.

Since the beginning of this year, Arizona has seen a significant increase in drug overdose deaths.

  • In fact, in Pima County alone, the medical examiner recorded: 23 fatalities in March, 31 in April, 35 in May, 44 in June, and 26 overdose deaths in July. Currently, the Pima County medical examiner has recorded 221 overdose fatalities, with drug-related deaths projected to surpass 400 in 2020.

Arizona behavioral health experts believe the COVID-19 pandemic may have contributed to this year’s increase in overdose deaths.

While this trend of year-to-year [drug overdose] increases, it is likely that COVID-19 contributed to the large increase in 2020,” Todd Vanderah, head of the Department of Pharmacology at the University of Arizona College of Medicine, says.

In particular, the state is seeing a rise in the use of fentanyl, methamphetamine, and tranquilizer drugs such as Xanax. Experts aren’t entirely sure if more Arizonans are becoming addicted, if people are relapsing, or if both are happening at the same time, but they do believe COVID-19-related stress has played a significant role in the number of deaths that have occurred this year.

Many people have been increasing their intake of alcohol, which is easier to track because of sales, but this leads me to believe that illicit drugs are also being consumed more due to the overall depression that COVID-19 has put upon the world. The loss of social interactions, the loss of jobs, and the loss of loved ones is very devastating and can lead to a ‘who cares’ attitude and substance misuse,” Vanderah explains.

Adolescent Substance Use Increasing With Age

Young people have also contributed to Arizona’s drug and alcohol abuse trends. Even though Arizona’s health officials have long known that adolescents in the state use addictive substances like alcohol and “street drugs,” health experts are beginning to notice that adolescent substance use is increasing with age. According to data from Arizona’s 2019 State Health Assessment, high school students actually report using more addictive substances as they get older. Alcohol and marijuana are two of the most commonly used substances.

  • While only 11.5 percent of 8th graders report using alcohol in the past 30 days, 20.3 percent of 10th graders and 30.8 percent of 12th graders regularly consume alcohol.
  • Marijuana use among adolescents follows a similar pattern. In comparison to the 8.1 percent of 8th graders who smoke marijuana, 17 percent of 10th graders and 23.3 percent of 12th graders use the drug for recreational purposes.

Our Approach to Treating Drug & Alcohol Abuse

Here at StoneRidge Centers, we’re proud to call Arizona home and join in the state’s many efforts to combat drug and alcohol abuse. In addition to having recovery programs specifically dedicated to treating heroin, alcohol, prescription drug, and marijuana abuse, we take a different approach to treating substance use and mental health disorders.

We combine clinical treatment with expert-level brain science; since addiction and mental health disorders are chronic diseases that originate in the brain. By encouraging our patients to participate in a combination of evidence-based therapy techniques, nutrition, and exercise, we help our patients restore the brain to optimal health.

Long-term recovery from addiction challenges is possible and we can help you get there. Call us today at 928-583-7799 if you or a loved one have substance use challenges.


  1. https://www.azpm.org/p/home-articles-news/2019/2/1/145516-us-border-agency-announces-biggest-ever-fentanyl-bust-worth-35m/
  2. https://tucson.com/news/local/crime-and-courts/arizona-border-bust-cocaine-fentanyl-and-heroin-but-no-marijuana-in-iguana-statue/article_920af9e8-574c-11ea-828b-b3c43ba745d3.html

    Innovative, Evidence-Based Therapies

    Because mental health and addiction concerns are so often interconnected, we utilize research-based approaches with evidence-based outcomes that promote overall healing and recovery.

    Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS)

    This low-impact magnetic stimulation activates neurons inside the brain, relieving symptoms associated with depression and anxiety.

    qEEG/Brain Mapping

    Using brain scanning and readings, we create a map of our patients’ brains, helping us develop more targeted and effective treatments.


    This process assists patients in visualizing their own brain functionality through continuous EEG readings.

    Spravato Therapy

    We use carefully monitored doses of Spravato to help patients struggling with complex mental health disorders, including severe depression.

    Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

    Patients use this practice to help reframe intrusive or negative thought patterns and develop coping techniques for long-term recovery.

    Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

    This practice helps patients learn to regulate emotions, communicate more effectively, and process their own thoughts and feelings..

    Eye Movement Desensitization (EMDR)

    Licensed and trained therapists guide patients through this technique for managing stress and anxiety on an ongoing basis.

    Individual Therapy

    Patients experience one-on-one therapy sessions with a licensed therapist to provide a safe and private place to recover and heal.

    Group/Family Therapy

    Patients can practice the skills and techniques they have learned in treatment with others in a safe, therapist-guided space.

Contact StoneRidge Centers

5940 E. Copper Hill Dr. Ste B & E, Prescott Valley, AZ. 86314

We exercise progressive, leading brain science in our treatment approach for patients in our community and across the country who are struggling with mental health and addiction challenges.