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Task force recommends four fixes to fight substance abuse in Arizona

(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast-File)

PHOENIX — A state task force has recommended four steps officials should take to reduce instances of substance abuse in the state.

In a report released Tuesday, the Arizona Substance Abuse Task Force said prevention methods, better access to treatment, available medication-based treatment and better means of addressing neonatal abuse syndrome — problems related to an unborn child being exposed to opiates — are key.

Task Force co-chair Debbie Moak, who also heads the Governor’s Office of Youth, Faith and Family, said during a press conference that early prevention is the biggest key.

“Investing in evidence-based prevention pays long-term dividends,” she said. “The Govenor’s Office of Youth, Faith and Family, next month, will be releasing new funding targeting high school, primary and secondary preventing programming.”

Dr. Sara Salek, chief medical officer at the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, said it is important for addicts to remember access to treatment – whether counseling or medication-based – is vital.

“Substance-use disorder – including opioid addiction – is a chronic medical condition … not one of moral failure,” she said.

Another aspect of the recommendations is treating Arizona’s prison inmates. Chuck Ryan with the Arizona Department of Corrections said too many inmates do not receive the help they need before they leave prison.

“We have 42,222 people behind the wire,” he said. “Seventy-seven percent of them (32,510) have been assessed as needing substance-abuse treatment.

“As inmates are released into the community upon completion of their sentences, the lure of returning to drug use can often weigh heavy. Relapse leads to recidivism.”

Ryan said some programs are being tested this year, including counseling and the medication vivitrol for 100 qualified inmates. Another program provides counseling at inmate re-enty centers in Maricopa and Pima Counties.

The task force also recommended quicker treatment of neonatal abstinence syndrome. This is a suite of issues that often affects babies exposed to opiates in utero. Symptoms include seizures, tremors, poor feeding and constant crying.

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