On Monday, June 5, 2017, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey declared a public health crisis due to the growing number of Opioid overdoses among Arizonians. Opioids are highly addictive and contain powerful pain-relieving properties.
In 2014, Arizona ranked 15th in the country for highest drug overdose death rate. Throughout the state, misuse of Opioids has continued to have a devastating impact on the public health system, as well as communities.
Over the past 5 years, Arizona deaths caused by Opioids have risen by nearly 75 percent. In 2016, overdose deaths reached a record high for the state, marking the highest number of overdose fatalities thus far.
Doug Ducey to Combat Arizona’s Opioid Emergency
Governor Ducey’s declaration oversees the Arizona Department of Health Services responding to the public emergency with rapid efforts.
“As the number of Opioid overdoses and deaths increase at an alarming rate, we must take action. It’s time to call this what it is — an emergency.”
– Governor Ducey
In the declaration of emergency for Arizona, Ducey plans to enhance state-wide response to the epidemic. In the plan, ADHS will focus on increasing awareness of the problem, expanding access to treatment services and make Naloxone, an overdose reversal drug more readily available.
Prescription Opioid abuse and Painkiller prescribing practices should not be taken lightly. According to the Arizona Department of Health Services, more than 431 million prescription Painkillers were dispensed in 2016, alone.
This striking number is estimated to provide each citizen in Arizona with a 2.5-week supply of his or her own. Several reports from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention indicate that prescription Painkillers are a sole cause in Opioid related overdoses.
“Most of us know someone impacted by substance abuse — our family, our friends, our neighbors. Our hearts ache for them, but that isn’t enough. We must do more.”
Per an ADHS report, 4 out of every 10 adults in Arizona know someone who is addicted to prescription Opioids.
While Heroin related deaths are on a steady incline, Arizona reports having twice as many prescription Opioid-related deaths. Prescription Painkillers are increasingly being recognized as a gateway to Heroin use.
According to HookedAZ, Phoenix DEA agent Doug Coleman states on a national level that out of all persons addicted to Heroin, 80 percent began with prescription Painkiller abuse.
As for Arizona, a recent publication released by the ADHS indicates that approximately 4 out of 5 people who become addicted to Heroin, started through misuse of prescription Opioids.
Teenagers and young adults are especially at risk of Heroin use, as many have stopped viewing Heroin as a dangerous street drug, but rather as an alternative to expensive Painkillers.
According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, most people are unaware of the risks associated with nonmedical use of Painkillers. Additionally, many people share their unused prescription Opioids with others.
The majority adolescents who partake in prescription Painkiller abuse are also freely given the drugs by a relative or friend.
Arizona’s Public Dilemma
Arizona’s Health Emergency Operations Center activated on the 5th day of this month. The public health and partnered leadership are now working vigorously to address the Opioid epidemic in the state. To keep a closer watch on the progression of the crisis, surveillance systems have been enacted.
Decisions have been made and the aim components of the surveillance systems are set to include: highlights on reports and trends in overdose fatalities; suspected Opioid overdoses and deaths; Naloxone doses dispensed and administered in crisis response; neonatal abstinence syndrome; and prescription drug monitoring programs to eliminate “doctor shopping.”
The Opioid epidemic in Arizona is thought to have report requirements soon. Due to this presumption, the emergency operations team has pre-identified required reporters.
The state is requiring mandatory reporting through the Opioid Enhanced Surveillance Reporting by fields including, law enforcement, medical examiners, providers, emergency medical systems, healthcare facilities and pharmacists.
Governor Ducey believes it necessary to collect detailed data reports on Opioid-related deaths for development of guidelines that will increase education for healthcare providers.
“I’m declaring a statewide health emergency because we need to know more about the epidemic, including enhanced data that illustrates when and where these overdoses occur so that we can develop real, targeted solutions.”
In an interview Ducey explains that the state is planning to bring together a coalition of the department of emergency, health services and military affairs.
Battling the Opioid epidemic and overdose deaths in the state of Arizona as well as throughout the nation will hardly be a walk in the park. It’s about time Arizona officials step up to the task and handle the epidemic’s impact accordingly.