A Northwest teen died Thursday, March 18, in what authorities have said looks like a drug overdose.

The 17-year-old Canyon Del Oro High School student’s mother found him non-responsive in the bathroom of his home near La Cañada Drive and Hardy Road last Thursday morning.

Evan Cueto was taken to an area hospital where doctors later pronounced him dead.

“It appears to be an overdose,” Pima County Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Dawn Barkman said this week.

A friend of the boy had spent the night with him and saw him go to the bathroom at about 3 a.m., Barkman said.

That could have been when he took a potentially fatal dose of drugs.

Results of an autopsy are pending.

The incident would mark the third drug-related death of a CDO student in less than a year.

Last August, an 18-year-old CDO dropout died of a drug overdose.

Less than a week later, a second CDO student, a 17-year-old senior, died under similar circumstances.

Pima County Medical Examiner’s reports listed methadone intoxication as the cause of both teens’ deaths.

Doctors commonly prescribe the drug, a synthetic opiate, to recovering heroin addicts.

Availability of the drug makes it a common substitute for heroin among drug users. But unlike street drugs, methadone works slowly, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.

That delayed reaction prompts some users to ingest multiple doses, which can lead to overdose.

Some experts have speculated that heroin and prescription narcotic abuse rates have risen sharply in recent years. Ample anecdotal evidence backs the claims.

A spokesman with the DEA says that enforcement seizures of heroin have grown by 60 percent nationwide in the past few years.

The same spokesman described prescription painkiller abuse as “the No. 1 emerging drug problem in the United States,” The Explorer reported last September.

In Oro Valley, police seizures of heroin and related arrests have been on the rise, according to police statistics.

“It’s a problem that few people in the community know about,” Oro Valley Police Sgt. Mike McBride said this week.

In the past two years, town police have arrested more than 60 high school students in connection to drug sales and abuse.

“That’s what we want,” McBride said of the arrests. “We don’t want any more overdoses.”

Still, the flow of heroin into the community has continued nearly unabated, according to police data.

Police seized nearly 100 grams of heroin in 2008, up from 27 grams confiscated the previous year.

During the first two months of this year, Oro Valley police have seized 45 grams of heroin.

Throughout his tenure in Oro Valley, including time spent on narcotics investigation, McBride said there has been a demonstrable increase in teen abuse of heroin and prescription narcotics.

“Juveniles weren’t doing heroin,” McBride said.

A 2008 Arizona Criminal Justice Commission survey of youth drug use would appear to confirm the increase police have seen locally.

That survey found that nearly 30 percent of Arizona high school seniors had used prescription drugs in their lives and more than 10 percent had used the drugs in the past 30 days.

The same survey found that 3 percent of seniors had used heroin at least once, while 1 percent had used the drug in the past 30 days.

The burgeoning epidemic holds deadly consequences for some. 

Shortly after the two overdose deaths last year, Oro Valley police shot and killed a Tucson man suspected of selling heroin to CDO students.

While attempting to arrest the man, he tried to run over police officers with his car.

Police found 21 grams of heroin in his car along with a small amount of cocaine and nearly $1,000 in cash.

A Pima County Attorney’s investigation determined the police were justified in the shooting.

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