drug abuse

The Most Abused Drugs in Arizona and Their Effects

Arizona Sees a Rise in Deaths From the State’s Most Abused Drugs 

Drug use in Arizona has reached alarming numbers. By compiling statistics from the Centers for Disease Control, HealthGrove discovered that 20 out of 100,000 Arizonans are dying from drug poisoning. This makes Arizona the number-two state for fatal drug overdoses in the United States. With a 7 percent hike in overdose deaths from the year prior to this report’s release, it seems these fatalities will continue to rise. Faced with an urgent need to prevent the use of dangerous drugs in Arizona, Governor Doug Ducey created a 30-member Substance Abuse Task Force that will focus on early intervention and increased education. 

The Most Abused Drugs in Arizona 

Researcher James Cunningham from the University of Arizona reviewed multiple sources to create a comprehensive report on drug trends in Maricopa County. During his 2013 analysis, he found that the most abused drugs in Arizona are methamphetamine, heroin, marijuana, and cocaine. Drug treatment and hospital admissions for cocaine use have decreased by 5%, making cocaine the fourth most used illicit drug. However, treatment and admissions numbers have increased significantly for other drugs; 23 percent of treatment cases are related to methamphetamine, 19 percent of cases are due to heroin and morphine and 17 percent are attributed to marijuana. 


Classified as a stimulant, methamphetamine causes the body to release extra dopamine, which leads to the pleasurable effect that users crave. However, elevated levels of dopamine may eventually change the brain’s structure, impairing verbal learning, reducing motor speed and creating permanent emotional and memory problems. Besides euphoria, abnormal wakefulness, convulsions, decreased appetite, hyperthermia, increased respiration and a rapid heartbeat are short-term effects of methamphetamine abuse. Chronic users of methamphetamine will build a tolerance to the drug, needing more of it to achieve the same desired effect. There are also effects from long-term use of this drug:

  • Anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Delusions
  • Hallucinations
  • Insomnia
  • Paranoia
  • Violent behavior


Processed from morphine, heroin is an opioid that is diluted with household substances such as starch, and powdered milk. When heroin reaches the brain, it quickly binds to the brain’s opioid receptors, causing an intense rush of pleasure, flushed skin, a dry mouth and sometimes nausea and itching. Once these effects wear off, users experience drowsiness, a decreased heart rate and shallow breathing. Slowed respiratory function carries the risk of coma, brain damage and even death. Several scientific studies have found that long-term heroin abuse deteriorates the brain’s white matter, affecting how users tolerate stress, control their behavior and make decisions. 


Marijuana is a hallucinogenic plant that contains a psychoactive chemical called delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. Depending on whether the user smokes or consumes marijuana, the effects are felt within several minutes to 1 hour. These effects vary between users and plant strains, but common effects include heightened senses, an increased appetite, euphoria and a sense of relaxation. On the other end of the spectrum, marijuana users may experience anxiety, paranoia, panic or even acute psychosis. After years of smoking or ingesting marijuana, people may suffer from memory impairment, a decline in cognitive abilities and reduced verbal ability.


By stopping neurotransmitter transporters from reabsorbing dopamine, cocaine creates an accumulation of dopamine. This buildup causes extreme euphoria and pleasure. Since cocaine is a stimulant, users appear hypersensitive to stimuli, talkative and energetic. They may also have dilated pupils, an elevated body temperature and an increased heart rate. Nosebleeds and hoarseness are also two typical problems that occur from cocaine use. Cocaine is one the most dangerous drugs in Arizona because with prolonged abuse, users may experience anxiety, convulsions, irritability, erratic behavior, panic attacks and psychosis. There are more effects that are more severe in nature:

  • Cardiac arrest
  • Coma
  • Heart rhythm disturbances
  • Seizures
  • Strokes
  • Sudden death

A False Sense of Security From the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act 

Ten years after the passage of the federal Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005, the Drug Enforcement Agency reported no instances of methamphetamine lab seizure in Arizona. While this statistic looks promising on paper, the 6,400 pounds of methamphetamine seized in 2015 suggest that the threat of rampant methamphetamine abuse is real, especially considering that this amount has increased by a staggering 294 percent in the last 5 years. Since this act limits the number of pseudoephedrine purchase to 9 grams per month, domestic methamphetamine production has sharply declined. Instead, foreign traffickers are supplying most of America’s methamphetamine supply. 

Methamphetamine and Heroin Are Coming in Droves From Mexico

Dangerous drugs in Arizona are transported through the Nogales and San Luis points of entry. Last year, the United States Customs and Border Protection agency made a 387-pound methamphetamine bust in Nogales, which is the largest seizure at this border crossing to date. Statewide, over 1,200 pounds of heroin were confiscated in 2015, which was more than double of the Arizona’s heroin-seizure count from 2013. Doug Coleman of the Phoenix DEA estimates that Mexican cartels are responsible for 90 percent of the methamphetamine flow and 80 percent of the heroin distribution in the United States. However, Mexico’s cocaine distribution has shifted to Europe where the drug nets higher profits since American stimulant users are attracted to the inexpensiveness of methamphetamine in comparison to cocaine. 

Prescription Painkiller Users Are Turning to Heroin 

To combat the misuse of Schedule II hydrocodone and oxycodone prescription painkillers, lawmakers have put prescription writing and filling restrictions on physicians and pharmacists. Now, these medications are more difficult for opioid abusers to obtain. Because prices are not inflated by pharmaceutical companies and heroin is often diluted with dirt-cheap ingredients, heroin is also less costly than opioid medications. Depending on the location, one heroin dose can cost $10 in contrast to $60 or more per opioid pill. Seeing the demand for heroin among opioid users in the United States, many people living in Mexico feel that heroin production is a way out of poverty. Therefore, they are transporting an abundance of heroin to the United States, contributing to the growing volume of drug use in Arizona. 

The Legalization of Medical Marijuana

In 2010, Arizona made medical marijuana legal. As of 2017, the Arizona Department of Health Services reported that approximately 120,000 residents have a medical-marijuana card. However, passing Proposition 203 also paved the way for people to illegally profit from medical marijuana. For instance, Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office raided three houses in 2012 and discovered $20,000 in cash along with 33 pounds of harvested marijuana and 107 marijuana plants. The growers responsible for this operation were giving out fraudulent patient cards and caregiver cards to their customers. Investigators from the MCSO approximated that this sized operation could garner operators $1 million every year. Considering the lucrativeness of illegal medical-marijuana operations, these ventures may lead to a future increase in marijuana abuse.