An opioid study released by the Arizona Department of Health Services has prompted Gov. Doug Ducey to declare an emergency Monday.
The study, which looked at data involving opioid-related deaths in the state from 2007 to 2016, showed an increase of 74 percent since 2012. The state documented 790 opioid deaths last year. Of those, 308 involved heroin and 482 were from prescription medication.
The emergency declaration of an opioid epidemic sets up an “enhanced surveillance advisory” and requires a rapid response from the health department.
The declaration gives Arizona the ability to coordinate public health efforts between state, local and private-sector partners and allows the state to utilize all public health resources. That includes distributing naloxone throughout the community to help prevent drug overdose deaths. The declaration and enhanced surveillance advisory will provide for enhanced reporting of overdose deaths from doctors and hospitals.
“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,” Ducey said.
The report showed 4-9 deaths in the Maricopa area in 2016. The highest concentrations of opioid-related fatalities were in North Mountain in metro Phoenix and the central and south areas of metro Tucson.
The report also includes some data from 2017, showing the number of overdose patients that first responders had to treat with naloxone. That hit a high of 517 in March. Of the 514 treated in May, 27 percent needed multiple doses.
The cost of treating opioid-related emergencies rose 125 percent between 2009 and 2015, according to the study. Those dying from opioid use between 2007 and 2016 tended to be white and under the age of 54.
The study showed heroin-related deaths to have the sharpest rise among opioid users. Nearly 86 percent of opioid deaths involved other non-opioid drugs.
“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 Dr. Cara Christ, director of Health Services. “We will look into improving prescription practices, addressing poly drug use, and analyzing raw data on overdose deaths that occur to see where the problem areas are and learn how we can make changes to save lives.”