In 191 suspected opioid overdoses in Arizona last week, 15 people died and 18 newborns dealt with neonatal abstinence syndrome — withdrawals upon being born addicted.
That’s according to the first week of real-time data collection by the state health department as part of new action requested in an emergency declaration by Gov. Doug Ducey June 5.
“This new, real-time data gives us a clear picture we didn’t have before,” Ducey said in a statement today. “One life lost to these highly addictive drugs is too many. One more person becoming hooked is no longer an option. Our public health response will begin working on targeted solutions to curb this opioid epidemic.”
Addiction to opioids — a range of painkillers including oxycodone, hydrocodone, tramadol, morphine and codeine — has become an epidemic in Arizona and across the country.
Last year, 790 Arizonans died from opioid overdoses, a 74 percent over the past four years, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services. Drug overdoses have become the leading cause of death among Americans under 50.
Might Be Your Neighbor
Opioid addiction is not confined to any conventional view of drug addicts. Many addicts start on prescription painkillers and end up on illegal opioids, such as heroin.
A person, “it could be your neighbor,” builds up a tolerance to prescription drugs, Sheriff Paul Penzone explained at an April town hall in Anthem. A doctor prescribes heavier doses, and the drugs become too expensive. “What do you do? You go on the street and you get heroin,” Penzone said. “It’s much cheaper, it has a longer high, and it addresses the addiction that you have.”
The result is a “core issue of crime,” Penzone said.
“In addition to the data collection, we are currently working to train over 700 law enforcement and emergency medical services, or EMS providers, on naloxone administration,” said Dr. Cara Christ, director of the Arizona Department of Health Services. “Our training will expand to public health, clinicians, and pharmacists, to share knowledge on overdose recognition and treatment, naloxone administration, opioid-related reporting, appropriate prescribing practices, and medication assisted treatment.”
Opioids killed more than 33,000 people in 2015, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Heroin-related overdose deaths alone have quadrupled between 2010 and 2015, based on CDC data. Those figures are expected to be significantly eclipsed in 2016, but the data is slow to be reported. “The United States is in the midst of an opioid overdose epidemic,” the CDC states flatly.
The federal government puts the annual economic costs of the epidemic at more than $70 billion.
“Heroin use has been increasing in recent years among men and women, most age groups, and all income levels,” the CDC says. “Some of the greatest increases have occurred in demographic groups with historically low rates of heroin use: women, the privately insured, and people with higher incomes. In particular, heroin use has more than doubled in the past decade among young adults aged 18 to 25 years.”