Alarming AZDHS Report Shows 191 Opioid Overdoses in Past Week
The first weekly report released by the Arizona Department of Health Services has outlined that the State of Arizona had 191 suspected opioid overdoses, 15 of them fatal, last week. This is the first of the new weekly reports which the AZDHS will be releasing, one of the many changes that have been brought on by the declaration of emergency which was signed by Arizona Governor Doug Ducey on June 5th of this year.
Of the 191 suspected overdoses, 106 were located in Maricopa County and 50 were located in Pima County, suggesting that the opioid epidemic is exponentially more severe in the large city centers of Phoenix and Tucson.
Also included in the report were statistics involving the state’s new stance on naloxone; the drug which can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose in many situations. The report stated that emergency responders administered 102 doses of the drug last week to those that were suspected of experiencing opioid overdoses. Also, 51 naloxone kits were dispensed statewide by pharmacists to those who were classified as at high-risk of an opioid overdose.
This new data on the administration and distribution of naloxone suggests that the state is taking a serious stance on the treatment and prevention of fatal opioid overdoses, which have grown at a rapid rate in Arizona for over a decade. Until recently, most first responders did not carry naloxone and it was illegal for pharmacists to provide it to the public without a prescription. Both of these situations were changed as a result of Governor Ducey’s declaration of emergency which called for more availability of the drug in order to combat fatalities due to opioid overdoses.
The last piece of data which was provided by the AZDHS report states that there were 18 babies born last week with suspected neonatal abstinence syndrome, which results from babies being born to mothers who are actively addicted to opioids.
The report is alarming in the fact that it clearly outlines the severity of the problem in Arizona. If these numbers remained consistent for an entire year, the total number of opioid overdoses would approach 10,000 with 780 of them being fatal.
A Step in the Right Direction
While these numbers are troubling, the silver lining of this report is the clear indication that Governor Ducey’s recent declaration of emergency was not simply a publicity stunt. While there is still a long ways to go before satisfactory progress towards slowing the opioid epidemic in Arizona can be claimed, this is a step in the right direction as now officials and the public have real concrete data to help them assess the true nature of the problem at hand.
While these reports, which are going to be released by the AZDHS every Monday, will help to continue to inform us about the scope and scale of the opioid addiction problem in Arizona, they will need to be followed up by a continued and concerted effort on the part of organizations across the state if the number of opioid overdoses is going to decrease drastically.
Now that the true nature of the problem is known, treatment options for addicts before they overdose on opioids is going to be key. While measures like increasing the availability and distribution of naloxone are certainly welcome in the fight against fatal overdoses, the problem needs to be addressed at its core. Treating the disease, which is addiction, and not one of the unfortunate symptoms which are overdoses. It is a simple fact that as long as people across the state, and the nation, continue to suffer from drug addiction there will continue to be overdoses.
This promising first step for the State of Arizona in tackling the state’s opioid crisis can be used as a model for other states as well. Every single state in the union has experienced drastic increases in opioid overdoses and deaths over the past decade as the opioid crisis continues to strengthen its grip on every corner of the nation.
What should not be lost in the conversation is the fact that the true goal should be to not just decrease the number of individuals who overdose from opioid addiction, but to reduce the number of people who are addicted to opioids in the first place.