Arizona Governor Declares Opioid Overdose Epidemic a Public Health Crisis
Arizona Governor Douglas Ducey today signed a declaration of emergency in regards to the state’s opioid overdose epidemic, formally requesting various agencies within the state to enact immediate measures to address the public health crisis.
According to the Arizona Department of Health Services, there were 790 deaths due to opioid overdoses in Arizona during 2016. This caps off a 74% increase in opioid overdose deaths from 2012-2016 in the state.
The declaration states that “…it is necessary and appropriate to take action to ensure that the residents of Arizona remain safe and healthy.” In it, Ducey has ordered the use of the Arizona Emergency Response and Recovery Plan to allocate State resources and assets to agencies such as the AZDHS, Arizona Attorney General’s Office, and local law enforcement.
Specifically, the order requests that the AZDHS develop new rules for the prescription of opiates within healthcare institutions and provide more education to healthcare providers in regards to responsible prescribing practices.
Opiate Painkiller Prescriptions on the Rise
The number of prescriptions for opiate medications has increased as drastically as the rates of addiction and overdose deaths, suggesting a clear correlation between healthcare providers and the rates of opiate prescription abuse.
A vast majority of those who struggle with opiate abuse begin with a legal prescription from their doctor. Because some are predisposed to addiction, specifically opiates, once they start taking them it can become extremely difficult for them to stop on their own.
Many times, the abuse of prescription medications can evolve into using other illicit opiates like heroin. Regulating the amount of prescription opiates that are prescribed, as well as the reasons they are prescribed for is a step in the right direction to stem the tide of increased overdose deaths which has greatly impacted not only Arizona but virtually every other state as well.
Saving Lives with Naloxone
Ducey’s declaration also outlines the AZDHS to develop and provide training to local law enforcement agencies within the state for the safe handling and administration of Naloxone in overdose situations.
Naloxone, also known as Narcan, is a medication which can be used to block and even reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. The medication can be administered effectively with very little training and is highly effective at preventing deaths due to an opioid overdose.
Many cities and states across the nation have taken similar measures by equipping their first responders with this drug and it has saved thousands of lives over the past couple decades. The increase in its availability to police and emergency responders in Arizona should help decrease the total number of deaths due to opiate overdoses.
Treatment for Opioid Addiction
Conspicuously absent from Ducey’s declaration was a strong push for increased treatment of drug abuse. While the order outlines clear actions to address the issue of deaths due to opioid overdoses, it says nothing in regards to more in-depth treatment for opioid addiction. Saving addicts from dying due to overdose is an extremely important cause, however, their underlying disease still needs to be properly treated if the issue of overdose deaths in the state as well as the entire country is to improve.
The disease of addiction is one that requires intensive treatment by specially trained professionals, however, many addicts have a hard time finding resources to receive this treatment. While this is certainly a welcome first step by Governor Deucy in addressing Arizona’s opiate abuse problem, it is only the first step of many. The issue of opiate abuse is a complex one which is going to require solving problems of many areas before we can put it behind us as a country.