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Arizona lobbyist explains efforts to regulate doctors in opioid epidemic

PHOENIX — Two Arizonans die every day from an opioid overdose, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.

In 2017, Gov. Doug Ducey issued an emergency declaration to begin combating the crisis.

Since then, the state has passed several laws to help prevent opioid addiction and aid those already struggling with opioid dependency.

Pete Wertheim has been on the forefront of this legislative battle.

He is the executive director of the Arizona Osteopathic Medical Association. He’s effectively worked as a lobbyist to regulate and support the role physicians play in the opioid epidemic.

According to AZDHS, 431 million opioid pills were prescribed in 2016 — enough for every Arizonan to have a two-week supply.

That’s why Wertheim said they introduced legislation to limit the prescriptions.

“I think the limit on initial fills of 5 days for opioid-naive patients, patients who have not received an opioid in the previous 60 days, has really helped change quite a bit,” he said.

Wertheim said the Opioid Epidemic Act also expanded existing services, created more provisions for physicians and developed good Samaritan laws to help those currently suffering from addiction.

The state even developed the nation’s first 24-hour opioid assistance referral line.

Wertheim said that because of this, opioid prescriptions in the state are down by 21%. However, opioid overdoses and deaths continue to rise.

“A lot of that activity has moved to the streets,” he said. “So we need to continue to focus the interventions in the medical settings, but we really need to look at the culture of addiction.”

Wertheim said that’s where other agencies and entities, like law enforcement, begin to play a role.

He said one of the most effective ways Arizona has combated this crisis is by distributing the life-saving opioid reversal drug Naloxone.

Wertheim said the city distributed nearly 50,000 Naloxone kits to first responders and about 13,000 of them have been administered.

He said that one of the most prominent ways Arizona has begun to change the course of the opioid epidemic is by changing the stigma.

“We’ve really changed the narrative around addiction,” he said. “These people are not the evil outliers out there. Compassion is really what we’re seeing and this is really what we need to end this epidemic.”

Tune in to KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Bruce St. James & Pamela Hughes Show each day this week at 10 a.m. for special coverage of Arizona’s opioid epidemic.

To reach the Arizona Opioid Assistance and Referral Line, call 1-888-688-4222, or visit the website for more information.

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