PHOENIX (AP) — A new state report shows Arizona saw another big rise in opioid overdose deaths last year, highlighting the prescription painkiller and heroin epidemic that continues to devastate communities across the nation.
The Arizona Department of Health Services documented the state had 790 opioid deaths in 2016, a 16 percent climb from the previous year. It said prescription opioids caused 482 of those deaths, while 308 were prompted by heroin.
The number of overdose deaths has gone up by nearly 75 percent since 2012, when 454 were reported.
Dr. Cara Christ, the director of the department, said in a statement that officials know people using opioids for pain do not intend to become hooked or understand the potential for death. She said the rising number shows the effects opioids are having on the community.
“This significant increase in deaths is alarming and our response will require everyone in our community working together including doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals, first responders, and community members,” Christ said.
The department also included data depicting the economic impact opioids have on the state’s healthcare system, noting the cost of all opioid-related encounters in Arizona from 2009-2015 has increased 125 percent.
The increases have occurred even while state officials have made it a priority to combat the opioid epidemic.
Gov. Doug Ducey outlined efforts to tackle the issue in January’s state of the state address. That day, the governor issued an executive order giving inmates facing addiction the chance to enter a program and be treated with Vivitrol, an opioid antagonist that helps prevent heroin and opioid dependency, before leaving prison. Last year Ducey signed an executive order directing Medicaid to limit narcotic painkiller prescriptions.
Last year, he signed legislation requiring doctors to check a database before prescribing opioids to ensure a patient isn’t a drug abuser who is “doctor shopping” to get additional painkillers. He also signed a bill allowing family or friends of people at risk of overdosing on opiates to obtain a drug used as an antidote without a prescription.
In April, state and law enforcement officials joined President Donald Trump’s acting drug czar to bring attention to a pilot program designed to address the opioid epidemic. The program rolled out in a Phoenix neighborhood asks addicts to turn in their drugs at the local police department and get treatment without fear of being arrested.
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