PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - With dealers cutting street drugs with fentanyl to get more bang for their buck, a lot of users don’t know what they're getting.

Some do.

Some want fentanyl because it is a faster, stronger high.

That was the case for 21-year-old Austin Fife.

Today, he is 111 days sober, the longest he's been clean since he was 14.

His story begins where it nearly ended.

[RELATED: 13 ways to talk to your kids about Fentanyl]

Fife died the day after Thanksgiving 2018.

"I was in the ICU, in a coma, the whole 9 yards," said Fife.

He overdosed on fentanyl.

Phoenix paramedics had to use six doses of Narcan to bring him back.

"The doctor told me they don’t usually do that, that they usually call it after two or three,” Fife said.

"For some reason,” he said, “I’m still alive.”

He's alive after using fentanyl for two years.

[RELATED: Global 'pandemic' of fake drugs killing children worldwide, report says]

“I was curious. Like OK, if it's so hush-hush and it’s so taboo, then it must be pretty good,” Fife said.

As wild as it seems, he says some people seek out fentanyl out of sheer curiosity, knowing it’s a deadly gamble.

[TIMELINE: Emergence of the opioid crisis]

“Absolutely! Sounds like a pretty good time. And it is,” Fife said. “Until it isn’t.”

He started using drugs in high school, first Vicodin, then marijuana and alcohol.

By the time he turned 19, he said he moved on to fentanyl, chasing a faster, stronger high.

"It’s quick and it’s potent," Fife said.

[RELATED: What is fentanyl and why is it 'the deadliest drug in the world'?]

He and a friend got it on the dark web back in the day when you still could. Nowadays, the feds have really locked down internet sales and access.

“It was cheap. It was really cheap,” Fife said.

He was snorting fentanyl, buying it in powder form, which happens to be the most dangerous because it can be absorbed through your skin.

[RELATED: Report shows drug overdoses doubled in Arizona]

That’s how it first came on the radar for most of us two years ago when a police officer in Ohio overdosed just brushing some off his uniform.

Fife knew he was playing with fire.

"As crazy as it might sound, we were very careful. We would put gloves on and we would put masks on. It looked like a real 'Breaking Bad' scene," Fife said, comparing his former reality to the popular show.

[SPECIAL REPORTING: Counterfeit Percocet pills widely available in Nogales, Mexico]

Fife transferred to Arizona State University his junior year from Texas and that’s when he says, he started shooting heroin.

“It was a terrible, miserable existence,” Fife said.

He went to rehab four times last year, using methadone and Suboxone so he didn't have to detox cold turkey, then relapsed with fentanyl.

“I knew what I was getting,” he assured.

Lisa Moody is the clinical director at Scottsdale Recovery Center where Fife still goes to group three times a week.

[RELATED: AZ police assuming every pill sold on the street laced with deadly drug]

“Everybody is using fentanyl,” Moody said.

Most kids aren't snorting it. They're popping pills without knowing what they really are. It's a risk Moody sees all the time.

"You don’t know whoever is cutting it, making it, it could be just one bad batch,” Moody said.

She says most of her patients have private insurance and even the best plans aren't much better than what AHCCCS will cover for rehab.

[RELATED: Poisoned pills: Phoenix firefighter, war hero dies after taking fentanyl-laced pill]

“So we see people having to leave before they’re ready,” Moody said.

She says trying to save money on rehab winds up costing everyone more, putting people through shorter repeat stints.

“I hear this all the time. 'I’ve never told anybody this in my life,'” Moody said. “There are people with so much trauma no one in their family even knows. And trauma's not something you can usually work out in 90 days.”

“Unfortunately, insurance is like, ‘We're just concerned about the substance abuse problem,'” Moody said.

Fife says there are not enough resources out there right now for people like him who want to get clean and stay clean.

He says we have to do more to convince kids not to give into their curiosity and the "DARE" and "Just say no" approach and school campaigns aren’t enough.

“Because people say yes! So, what happens when you say yes?” Fife said.

“Instead of taking a field trip to a zoo, take a field trip to a jail or a homeless shelter,” he said.

Moody couldn’t agree more.

"I feel like there’s a lot of things we need to be real about,” Moody said.

She says if we don't teach our kids the truth and consequences about drugs, they will learn from strangers and the streets.

“We’re not going to sweep it under the rug. We’re going to talk about what’s really happening in the world,” she said.

“The only reason I did this interview is because I hope that I could just help somebody,” Fife said.

Fife's truth doesn't get more real than this.

"Before you know it, you don’t really have any friends around you. All you care about is using that substance. It’s not so much a party anymore. It’s kind of dark and miserable,” Fife said.

Phoenix firefighters say they see up to 20 overdoses every day.

And while it used to take one or two doses of Narcan to bring someone back, with fentanyl, they're using everything they've got, sometimes eight doses and even calling ahead to the hospital to start a Narcan drip.

[SPECIAL SECTION: Fentanyl's Fatal Fallout]

It's that powerful.

And that's just a small fraction of the true cost of this crisis.

If you or someone you know needs help right now, the state runs a toll-free opioid assistance and referral hotline: 1-888-688-4222.

Here are a couple more resources and medication-assisted treatment through AHCCCS and Medicaid:

https://www.azahcccs.gov/BehavioralHealth/crisis.html

https://www.azahcccs.gov/Members/BehavioralHealthServices/OpioidUseDisorderAndTreatment/Locating_Treatment.html

Nicole Crites anchors 3TV's Good Evening Arizona weekdays alongside Brandon Lee. Nicole also digs deep into issues affecting Arizonans.  You'll see her reports on 3TV News at 9 p.m.
 
 


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3TV News Anchor

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