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Arizona seeing decline in presciption overdose deaths

PHOENIX – The Arizona Department of Health Services says it’s been focusing on reducing deaths from prescription drug overdoses and reports that in the last few years there has been a steady decline.

In 2009, Arizona saw 476 fatal overdoses from prescription opioid pain relievers, but despite a nearly 30 percent drop, Sheila Sjolander, assistant director for Public Health Prevention Services, said there is still more to do.

“It’s still a huge problem, we’ve had 328 deaths in 2013,” she said.

Sjolander said AZDHS’ efforts have seen some success though, particularly due to its multi-angled approach toward prevention.

The department has worked with doctors, pharmacies and other healthcare providers to encourage them to follow best practice guidelines when prescribing prescription drugs to avoid them falling into the wrong hands, Sjolander said.

Technology has also played a role in prevention. Sjolander said AZDHS has been working to get more doctors and pharmacies using the Board of Pharmacies Controlled Substances Prescription Monitoring Program.

That program allows pharmacies to upload patient data daily so doctors can see information about a patient’s prescription history.

“It’ll be a red flag for a doctor or physician or prescriber if they get multiple prescriptions in a very short period of time, or if they see a person that goes to multiple pharmacies in a very short period of time,” she said.

Educating and informing the public has also played a role in reducing overdoses Sjolander said, so that people are taking more care in storing prescription drugs and are aware of the proper ways to dispose of them.

Sjolander said the department has even mapped out permanent prescription drug drop off locations where people can safely dispose of old medication. That map can be found here.