Yavapai Co. Sheriff expresses surprise after DEA labels county's opioid epidemic a great threat to Arizona

According to officials with the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, Yavapai County's opioid epidemic is the greatest drug threat to public health and safety in Arizona.

Officials with the DEA’s Phoenix Field Division said on Feb. 24 that the designation was made under a new national strategy that allows each DEA field division to select an enforcement focus in its territory, and to customize its plans accordingly.

The new strategy called "Operation Engage" replaces a previous DEA initiative that was aimed specifically at opioids nationwide, the agency said in a statement.

Opioids have ravaged Yavapai County, including the communities of Prescott, Cottonwood, and Chino Valley, said Cheri Oz, special agent in charge of the Phoenix Field Division. "The opioid epidemic will continue to grow and worsen if nothing is done."

On the afternoon of March 1, Yavapai County Sheriff David Rhodes says the press release from the DEA came as a total shock to them, adding that the DEA never called to have a conversation and learn what the county is doing to combat the opioid problem.

"It really came out of nowhere to cast Yavapai County as the ground zero of the opioid epidemic, and insinuate or suggest that nothing was being done and the DEA was going to come and was going to a lot of great and wonderful things to change things around. It was just a great surprise," said Sheriff Rhodes.

Sheriff Rhodes says there have been strategies the county has put in place, but the DEA failed to call them.

"It showed that they really don't know what's going on here in Yavapai County," said Sheriff Rhodes. "All the processes, programs, and things we are doing in the area of prevention treatment law enforcement. It was unfortunate."

We hae reached out to the DEA, but no one will talk, and no one provided a statement.