PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - It can be called a silent killer, and to say it’s scary understates what is happening in neighborhoods across the Valley.

One Phoenix family knows all too well the power of this. He was a firefighter, a war hero and a father who was taken down by something so small but so deadly.

It only takes something as small as two grains of sand to take a life and most people have no idea what they’re taking.

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

“This was a guy who protected me. I didn't know how to feel safe in the world,” says Nicole Elinski, as she tearfully remembers her brother, Juston Doherty.

He was a highly decorated Army Ranger and military veteran. He continued to serve his country as a training instructor for the Army National Guard and as a Phoenix Fire captain.

“He dedicated his life to saving people,” said Elinski.

At 45 years old, Doherty was at the peak of his life, when it suddenly came to an end.

“I fell to the ground and I was like there's just no way,” said Elinski.

Last July, while on duty at the National Guard base in Phoenix, Doherty was found dead.

“When the (Medical Examiner's) report came out, we were completely blindsided,” said Elinski.

That report stated Doherty died of an accidental mixed drug overdose.

“On the day that he passed, he was at drill working with a broken hand, awaiting surgery. He was under a doctor's care,” said Elinski.

Doherty's sister says the "substances" in his system were prescribed medications taken as directed, except for one, fentanyl.

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

“He knew more than the average person what that drug could do so there's just no way that my brother would willingly take something knowing that it had fentanyl in it,” said Elinski.

She says authorities told them the fentanyl in his system came from a pressed pill.

“What they're doing is they're putting together pills that look, this was confirmed by an undercover cop, that they look identical to regular Percocet,” said Elinski.

“Four years ago, we seized zero fentanyl in Arizona. Last year, we seized enough Fentanyl to kill 75 to 80 million people” said Arizona Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent in Charge Doug Coleman.

[SPECIAL SECTION: Fentanyl's fatal fallout]

He says this is the worst and most potent drug crisis he’s ever seen.

“So the cartels realized that they could manufacture these pressed pills that look like oxycodone pills here in the United States. They're fentanyl-laced pills,” said Coleman.

He says Arizona is being hit especially hard because it's a main smuggling hub.

“We still see some smaller quantities coming in from China but the major production, the mass quantities, those are coming in along southern borders specifically mainly through Arizona," Coleman said.

[RELATED: Americans more likely to die by opioid overdose than in a car crash]

And he says it only takes the smallest amount to be lethal.

“Two milligrams is like, it's literally like a grain of sand,” said Coleman.

Elinski believes her brother was in so much pain and trying to work through it that he took what he thought was just a pain pill.

“I think somebody said, 'I see you struggling,' and I don't believe they even knew that there was fentanyl or that there was the amount of fentanyl in the pill. I don't think anybody did something to him on purpose. I believe that they gave it to him thinking they were helping him,” Elinski said.

[TIMELINE: Emergence of the opioid crisis]

It turned out to be one laced pill that ended it all.

”I miss my brother every day and if it can happen to him, it can happen to anyone," said Elinski.

One law enforcement official said that pretty much any pain pill bought off the street or purchased without a prescription will likely have fentanyl. These pills are coming from Mexico, and the reason for the fentanyl comes down to money.

[WATCH: Deadly counterfeit pills laced with fentanyl make insane profits for cartels]

“One hundred ninety people are dying every day,” Coleman said.

The body count behind the fentanyl crisis is devastating.

“We’re losing entire pieces of a generation of young America to this epidemic,” says Coleman.

A death sweep is continuing to spread across the U.S.

“We're seizing heroin or fentanyl powder or fentanyl pills just about every single day,” said Coleman.

So, what brought on this drug's infectious killing spree? Demand and greed, according to Coleman.

“Initially, it came in from foreign sources, mainly the Chinese. The Mexican cartel realized that someone was cutting in on their business and so they started ordering the precursor chemicals, the chemicals you need to actually make fentanyl and they started manufacturing it themselves,” said Coleman.

He says it comes down to basic economics.

“If you make a kilogram of fentanyl well, that's a million milligrams. So if you split that all the way up to 2 milligrams per pill, you've just made 500,000 pills from that 1 kilogram of pure fentanyl,” said Coleman.

And he says the return on investment is huge.

“Well, you can spend $2,500 and because you can sell it in such small quantities, you can make millions of dollars off of that $2,500 investment,” said Coleman.

It's a money machine that's turned into a death trap.

“This is not [done] in a chemical laboratory. This is in somebody's garage, so when they mix everything up to start your pill press, you don't know if that pill has 2 milligrams of fentanyl, which you might be able to survive, or 8 milligrams of fentanyl and that's the end of their life,” said Coleman.

The average pill in the Valley costs about $10 to $15 per pill. But to manufacture that one pill in Mexico, it costs mere pennies.


Copyright 2019 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.



Reporter/3 On Your Side Producer

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(14) comments


Another drug user off the streets. I love this new drug.


The article states that the pill was prescribed to him. He did not do anything illegal.


He was NOT prescribed the pill with fentanyl yet he took it anyway. He took an ILLEGAL drug that he did NOT get legally as no pharmacy or doctor would have provided that pill (or pills). As others have said it does not matter his occupation or past, he was an illegal drug user.


If he did nothing illegal, how did he get the illegal version? The pharmacy run down to Mexico and get one? Moron.


He broke the law by taking that pill .Even having it in his possession.


Something doesn’t sound right about this story... its sad that he died but I’m not sure that he didn’t know what he was taking.


Just curious who FORCED the pills down his throat. Dope addicts often die - good riddance - his occupation is irrelevant.


Here is a fireman, who was also at a "drill", is that for National Guard? Who was taking illegal drugs. Call it what it is. Why aren't firefighters doing mandatory drug testing? Who wants a drugged up firefighter?


So is it just because he was a firefighter and a "good man" that this could not be his own fault? Is it just the common folk and thugs that are in pain or addicts and there fore buy Fentanyl on the streets? I mean honestly did his dr./pharmacy really give him one "fentanyl laced pill"? As she stated? How does that even happen? I feel very sad for his family.

Wayne kenoff

Dude’s ASUs are stacked! Respect


So did he get the pills from a licensed pharmacy or get them from a local drug dealer?


So, let me understand. You want to build a wall, NOW, around a local pharmacy?





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