Arizona making progress in battle against opioid epidemic
PHOENIX — Arizona has made progress in the battle against the opioid epidemic one year after the state declared it a public health emergency.
“We are still working on an opioid epidemic in Arizona, but we are starting to see some results based on some of the policies and initiatives that were put into place when Gov. Doug Ducey called a public health emergency,” Dr. Cara Christ, director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, said Tuesday.
Those results include a 36 percent decrease in the number of opioid prescriptions this year, compared to 2016. Doctor shopping is down 60 percent, and the number of people referred to behavioral health providers has increased by 58 percent since July 2017.
In addition, there have been nearly three times more doses of naloxone, an opioid overdose reversal drug, dispensed by pharmacies this year compared to September 2017.
Christ’s office was charged with coming up with a plan to address the crisis after the governor declared a public-health emergency.
At the time, data showed there was a growing number of overdose deaths due to opioids in Arizona. A total of 949 opioid overdose deaths were reported in 2017, up from 800 the previous year.
The plan, dubbed the Opioid Action Plan, was released in September 2017. It included expanding access to naloxone and limiting the dose of opioids prescribed to first-time users.
In January, state lawmakers voted unanimously to approve the plan during a special session. Since then, the state has been tracking progress and providing real-time data.
“There’s been a lot of results that we have seen, but we know that the fight is far from over,” Christ said.
She said many initiatives that resulted from the Opioid Action Plan weren’t implemented too long ago, “so it’s probably going to be a year or two before we start seeing an improvement in the number of deaths due to opioid overdoses.”
She added there are several initiatives that still need to be implemented. That includes a campaign to educate young people about the dangers of opioid addictions and a program to teach people how to self-manage their chronic pain. Both are set to launch around the beginning of the year.
In addition, Christ said her department is working to implement a pain and addiction curriculum within all of the state’s undergraduate prescribing programs. The curriculum teaches students how to appropriately manage chronic pain, appropriately prescribe opioids and deal with opioid use disorder and addiction.
“That’s a really exciting endeavor because Arizona is going to be the first state to have all of our undergraduate prescribing programs involved in some way in this curriculum,” she said.