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Opioid prescriptions down in Arizona, but not all are celebrating

(Getty Images Photo/William Thomas Cain)

PHOENIX — Arizona reports 3,400 suspect opioid deaths in the past two years, but also a 13% drop in opioid prescriptions in that time.

Credit could go to doctors and patients who are increasingly weighing risks and benefits of painkillers.

“Understanding acute pain conditions, which are short-lived, versus chronic pain conditions, which are longer-lived, the approach is going to be different,” said Dr. Sara Salek, chief medical officer of the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System.

She adds the state has spent $84 million on prevention, referral and education programs.

“If we look at two decades ago, the risks weren’t as well-known as they are now, among the provider and member community,” Salek said.

Arizona has distributed 19,000 Naloxone kits to police agencies, resulting in more than 7,600 opioid overdose reversals in two years.

But now everyone is celebrating news of fewer opioid prescriptions in Arizona.

One doctor finds no correlation between the rise in prescriptions of painkillers and addiction.

“I wouldn’t consider it progress, forcing the decrease in the treatment of pain of patients in order to combat the opioid crisis,” said Dr. Jeffrey Singer with Valley Surgical Clinics.

“It’s not based on science. It’s emotion-driven.”

Dr. Singer, also a senior fellow with the libertarian Cato Institute, told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Arizona’s Morning News that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports three-fourths of opioid overdoses come from illegal drugs.

“The overdoes from prescription pain pills — without anything else like heroin, fentanyl, cocaine, or alcohol — is less than 10%,” he said.

CEO Ramsen Kasha of Calvary Healing Center appreciates the state’s anti-addiction efforts, but says users switch their drugs of choice.

“Heroin being the most common one, and most recently here, we’ve seen an increase in fentanyl usage, which is terrifying because of how deadly fentanyl is,” Kasha said.

“You’re eliminating the supply, but not the demand.”

Kasha also calls Naloxone a temporary fix for underlying abuse causes that must be addressed.

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