Opioid Epidemic Now a Public Health Emergency in Arizona

Opioid epidemicWith the release of 2016 statistics from Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) regarding the steady increase of opioid-related deaths in Arizona­–­790 last year and a 74% surge since 2012—the epidemic is now elevated to a public health emergency. On average, two Arizona citizens die each day from opioid abuse.

On Monday, June 5, Governor Doug Ducey issued a statewide emergency declaration that seeks to coordinate state, local, and private-sector partners in an effort to collect data and develop targeted solutions.

In a press release, AHDS announced that it will take swift action to identify ways to:

  • prevent prescription opioid drug abuse through appropriate prescribing practices,
  • develop education guidelines for healthcare providers on responsible prescribing practices,
  • expand access to treatment, especially Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT), and
  • reverse overdoses through the distribution of Naloxone.

CVS Health announced in May that all 195 pharmacies in Arizona will sell Narcan, a brand of Naloxone, without a prescription.

Prior to the emergency declaration, state agencies and legislators had begun to address the growing opioid epidemic. In October 2016, Governor Ducey signed an executive order authorizing AHCCCS to adopt policies necessary to limit initial opioid prescriptions to seven-day supplies. AHCCCS applied for and received, as the Arizona Single State Agency for Substance Abuse Treatment, a $24.3 million formulary grant from SAMSHA, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, to combat opioid-related deaths.  The Arizona High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, the Governor’s Office for Youth, Faith and Family, and state agencies ADHS and the Department of Child Safety and will collaborate with AHCCCS to implement targeted activities.

During the 53rd Arizona legislative session, lawmakers were instrumental to this effort as well. First, the Legislature passed HB 2493, a bill permitting pharmacists to dispense Naloxone or any other FDA approved opioid antagonist by standing order rather than a prescription. Dr. Sara Salek, AHCCCS Chief Medical Officer, will write the standing order. Secondly, lawmakers allocated funds in the SFY 2018 budget for five full-time positions at AHCCCS to contribute to the fight against the opioid epidemic.

The public can play an instrumental role in the effort to combat opioid-related deaths. Information about prevention, treatment, recovery resources, and many other ways to get involved is available at substanceabuse.az.gov.

 

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