Combating the Arizona Opioid Epidemic

“It’s the worst I’ve seen in 30 years, this toll that it’s taken on families. The crack (cocaine) crisis was not as bad,” said Doug Coleman, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration special agent in charge of Arizona. He was referring generally to the opioid crisis in Arizona, and specifically to the flood of illicit fentanyl smuggled into the Southwest of the country – a move that pushed the synthetic opioid to the top spot for fatal U.S. overdoses.

Although 85 percent of the fentanyl smuggled in from the Southern border is seized at San Diego area border crossings, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s 2018 National Drug Threat Assessment said seizures have surged at Arizona’s border and elsewhere around the state. DEA statistics show Arizona fentanyl seizures rose to 445 pounds in the fiscal year ending in October 2018, up from 172 pounds during the previous 12-month period.

These tablets imprinted with “M 30” contain fentanyl

During the 2018 legislative session, legislation was passed to address the opioid crisis by cracking down on excess opioid prescribing and add regulations designed to reduce the number of addictions and overdose deaths in our state. The legislation inadvertently also made it more difficult for some legitimate patients to receive the medications they need and many of the ramifications didn’t become clear until the legislation began taking effect this year. Earlier this month Governor Doug Ducey signed a bill fixing technicalities with the original opioid legislation.

Arizona’s opioid issue isn’t just on the radar of Arizona’s elected officials. A top advisor to President Donald Trump’s newly confirmed drug czar says rural communities are a priority in the fight against the country’s drug overdose crisis. Anne Hazlett, the soon-to-be senior advisor at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, met with healthcare professionals and those who work on addiction recovery in Arizona.

“We start with the premise that people who live in rural America will have the same needs,” Hazlett said. “The challenge we have is that the resources are often not the same.” She said the Trump administration is a “strong supporter” of such evidence-based treatment and will explore ideas like telemedicine that could expand access to those living in rural America.

Recently the Surgeon General released a digital postcard which is a call to action to the general public. This tool is meant to encourage the public to learn and share the 5 actions every person can do to stem the opioid epidemic.

Preventing Opioid Misuse

For healthcare providers and community-based organizations, the day-long 2019 Statewide Conference: The Painful Truth About Opioids will be held on March 21st in Phoenix. The Arizona Department of Health Services also has information and real-time data about opioid deaths, overdoses, naloxone doses dispensed, and more. The Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association has created an Opioid Compliance Toolkit and a webinar regarding Arizona regulations for hospitals and outpatient clinics.

Resources are becoming available, legislation is being passed, but more work will need to be done. What needs do you see in your community? What resources do you think would be helpful in addressing the opioid crisis in Arizona? Generating meaningful conversations around the health issues affecting the people of our state is another way we are working toward our long-term goal of one day making Arizona the Healthiest State in the Nation!


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