Arizona’s Opioid Epidemic

Of all the provisions being talked about in the new Senate health care bill, the one that could dramatically affect our state is tied to funding to battle the opioid epidemic.  790 Arizonans died from opioid overdoses last year and Governor Doug Ducey recently declared opioid abuse a public health emergency. Proposed cuts to Medicaid in the new health bill could be devastating to the opioid fight because, as points out, Medicaid treatment “covers 34 percent of the 2.66 million Americans addicted to opioids.”

Peggy Chase - JEH6539-EditOur guest blog today comes to us from Peggy Chase, President and CEO of Terros Health in metropolitan Phoenix. Ms. Chase is not weighing in on the politics of the health bill, but rather sharing her thoughts what is needed to get a handle on this crisis in our state. Terros Health provides care to those facing complex health conditions, including mental illness and drug addiction.

How Caring for the Whole Person Can Help Win the Battle Against Opioids

Crisis. Epidemic. Mass casualty.

These are among the words being used to describe one of the most monumental issues of the day: opioids addiction.

The number of people who use or are addicted to this dangerous class of drugs (which includes heroin, fentanyl and prescription pain relievers, such as oxycodone and hydrocodone) skyrocketed in recent years. Consider that 1.3 million Americans were hospitalized for opioid-related use in 2014 and that opioid overdoses are now the leading cause of death among those under the age of 50.

Opioids are destroying lives in cities and states throughout the nation. Arizona is no exception.

Sadly, two people in our state died every day from prescription opioid or heroin overdoses last year. All told, opioid overdoses claimed the lives of 790 Arizonans in 2016 – a 74 percent increase since 2012.

This situation prompted Gov. Doug Ducey to declare opioids a public-health emergency and put in place a series of actions to combat the problem. Among them are to expand the distribution of naloxone, the overdose-reducing drug to law enforcement agencies, particularly in areas where there are a high number of overdose deaths or near-deaths. New guidelines for prescribing opioids and expanding access to medication-assisted drug treatment also are being developed. And hospitals, doctors and other health providers soon will be required to update state health officials on opioid-related encounters and overdoses.

This is on top of community education, training for doctors on how to prescribe opioid drugs and a statewide database that doctors are required to check before prescribing addictive pain medications.

As a health care community, one of the most important steps we can take in the battle opioids is to get patients into treatment. Thanks to treatment, tens of thousands of people in our state become clean and sober from substance use disorder ever year.

Importantly, we must evaluate how physicians care for patients and how patients receive care. This is critical because one condition – physical or behavioral – can exacerbate another. It’s why at Terros Health, we have adopted a new model of care designed to treat the “whole” person.

The model is just what it implies – caring for the mind and body as one.

Whole health changes the paradigm of care by helping physicians and other clinicians uncover a patient’s source of pain and evaluate alternatives to prescription drugs like cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness-based stress reduction.

For those with an addiction, the integration of physical and mental health care also can help doctors identify the signs of drug use and abuse in their early stages. This is especially advantageous for the approximately 40 million Americans dealing with a milder form of drug use called “medically harmful substance abuse.”

The opioids crisis has reached epidemic proportions. By looking at patients’ health holistically, we can help them live healthier lives and reverse the deadly effects opioids are having on individuals and families in metropolitan Phoenix and throughout our state. 

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