Arizona health department official explains how state is fighting opioids

Jun 21, 2019, 3:45 PM

PHOENIX — The assistant director of the Arizona Department of Health Services says the state saw about 1,000 deaths due to opioids last year.

Jessica Rigler told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Bruce St. James & Pamela Hughes on Friday that each month, the state sees 250 overdoses, both fatal and nonfatal.

Gov. Doug Ducey declared a health emergency over opioids in 2017. It has since expired, but much of the infrastructure put in place during that time is still in place, Rigler said.

Previously, officials would have to wait for months to receive death data linked to overdoses, but that changed during the emergency.

“Here in Arizona, we’re fortunate enough to have real-time surveillance data, so we actually get weekly reports from health care facilities of suspected opioid overdoses … which gives us a better opportunity to target interventions and activities,” she said.

The declaration also led to ramped-up distribution of Naloxone, an opioid-reversal drug, into the community, as well as the unanimous passage of the Arizona Opioid Epidemic Act.

“(The law) helped to support better regulation in health care facilities, so that they could make appropriate referrals for their patients to behavioral health centers,” she said.

“And then we got a lot of engagement among the clinical community, too, to put together prescribing guidelines and education for our medical providers on best ways to prescribe and diagnose pain and addiction.”

Rigler said that although opioid deaths continue to be a pressing problem, officials are confident that changes in regulations will lead the number to come down over time.

“We know when individuals who have never taken an opioid or haven’t taken one recently are prescribed over a certain dosage or for a lengthy period of time, they’re more likely to develop opioid use disorder,” she said.

“Since the legislation has gone into effect, we’ve seen an 18% decrease in the total number of opioid prescriptions filled in Arizona.”

Rigler said the state has also seen a 29% in the average dosage of an opioid prescription.

She said she shies away from referring to anyone experiencing opioid use disorder as an “addict.”

“That’s such a stigmatizing term. It almost implies that individuals suffering who are from this disorder are making a conscious choice or have an untoward behavior,” she said.

“It’s not really a choice as much as a condition someone is suffering from.”

Rigler said the state knows that even with all of its efforts toward preventing addiction and overdoses, the epidemic will continue for some time.

“Of course we’d like to see nobody overdosing or dying due to opioids. It’s going to take a long time to reach that finish line,” she said.

“This is a problem that has been going for decades and decades, and so we look to turn the tide a little bit at a time.”

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

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Pass it along to the KTAR News team here.

Arizona News

(Arizona Department of Public Safety Photos)...

2 California men jailed after Arizona troopers find 130 pounds of meth in car

Two California men were jailed after state troopers seized 130 pounds of methamphetamine during a traffic stop in northern Arizona last week, authorities said.
14 hours ago
(Arizona State Parks and Trails Photo)...
Associated Press

Hiker dies after falling hundreds of feet in Superstition Mountains

A hiker camping on a peak in the Superstition Mountains east of metro Phoenix was found dead after apparently slipping while taking a photo and falling hundreds of feet, authorities said.
14 hours ago
(AP Photo/Susan Haigh, File)...
Danny Shapiro

Arizona passes $1 billion in total event wagering in third month of operation

It took Arizona just three months to clear $1 billion in total event wagering, according to a report released Tuesday from the state's gaming department.
14 hours ago
(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)...
Jim Cross

Arizona’s nation-leading home prices should slow down in 2023, economist says

Even though Arizona has topped the nation in home prices for 30 straight months, there are signs of relief, a Valley economist said.
14 hours ago
Empty shelves were found at a Kroger grocery store on March 13, 2020, in Grosse Ile, Michigan. Some...

Arizona’s COVID-19 pandemic began with single case 2 years ago Wednesday

Two years ago Wednesday, Arizona reported its first confirmed case of what is now known as COVID-19.
14 hours ago
A group of people from Haiti stand at a gap in the U.S.-Mexico border wall after having traveled fr...
Kevin Stone

Border Patrol union leader says morale ‘in the tank’ after trying year

Brandon Judd, president of the National Border Patrol Council, said agent morale is “in the tank” after a year in which the number of migrant encounters soared.
14 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 27: Wide receivers John Brown #12 and Larry Fitzgerald #11 of the Arizona C...
Arizona Department of Gaming

The most memorable games in Arizona sports history every fan needs to know

Sports teams in Arizona have seen their fair share of instant classic games, but there's a few that every fan needs to know.
Canvas Annuity

Annuity basics: how to retire with a guaranteed paycheck for life

Does the thought of retirement fill you with stress or with happiness? Everyone wants to spend their retirement in a way that brings them the most joy, whether that’s traveling the world or spending extra time at home with grandkids.

What you need to know about spine health

With 540 million people suffering from lower back pain, it remains the leading cause of long-term disability. That’s why World Spine Day on Oct. 16 will raise awareness about spinal health with its theme, BACK2BACK. “BACK2BACK will focus on highlighting ways in which people can help their spines by staying mobile, avoiding physical inactivity, not overloading […]
Arizona health department official explains how state is fighting opioids