Arizona Declares Statewide Health Emergency In Opioid Epidemic

A new report shows that Arizona saw another big rise in opioid overdose deaths last year, emphasizing the prescription painkiller and heroin epidemic that continues to devastate communities across the United States. 

The report issued by the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) shows over half of the 1,497 drug overdose deaths last year were due to opioids as the primary cause of death. Opioids include heroin as well as prescription medication. The number of heroin deaths alone has tripled since 2012.

The report warns that the appearance of synthetic opioids and opioids mixed with other powerful drugs like fentanyl has created large clusters of overdose in a number of communities. These extremely dangerous drug combinations have complicated the use of the opioid antagonist naloxone (Narcan). “Arizona is experiencing a worrisome increase in patients that require multiple doses of naloxone, possibly indicative of these more lethal mixtures,” says the 2016 Arizona Opioid Report.  

Following the release of the report, Governor Doug Ducey declared a statewide health emergency. “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,” said Governor Ducey.

As reported, state lawmakers passed legislation this year to create an 11-member drug overdose fatality review team that would examine all overdose deaths. “The declaration announced Monday allows ADHS to draw down a $500,000 public-health emergency fund to pay for items such as training costs and supplies of naloxone. “

“The only way we will be able to make an impact in the opioid epidemic is to come together as a community, and this declaration helps us move forward quickly,” said ADHS director Dr. Cara Christ.

The ADHS has been asked to identify ways to:

  • prevent prescription opioid drug abuse through appropriate prescribing practices

  • develop guidelines to educate healthcare providers on responsible prescribing practices

  • expand access to treatment, especially Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT)

  • reverse overdoses through the distribution of naloxone.

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