More than 2,000 Arizonans reported dead from opioid overdoses in 2021

Sep 15, 2022, 10:53 AM

Fentanyl pills seized by Arizona Department of Public Safety troopers on Aug. 24, 2022. (Twitter Ph...

Fentanyl pills seized by Arizona Department of Public Safety troopers on Aug. 24, 2022. (Twitter Photo/@Arizona_DPS)

(Twitter Photo/@Arizona_DPS)

PHOENIX – More than 2,000 Arizonans died from opioid overdoses in 2021 as fentanyl use became more prevalent, according to state health officials.

In 2018, Gov. Doug Ducey signed the Arizona Opioid Epidemic Act, a wide-ranging plan aimed at reducing overdoses and deaths involving prescription painkillers.

Doctors have prescribed fewer opioids since then, but the rise in illegal fentanyl pushed overdose deaths higher.

“In recent years, the challenge of overdose deaths has increasingly shifted from overprescribing to illicitly manufactured fentanyl pills. Fentanyl is the most commonly identified substance in verified opioid overdoses,” Sheila Sjolander, Arizona Department of Health Services assistant director, wrote in a blog post last week, when the state’s Opioid Overdoses Surveillance Report for 2020-21 was released.

The number of prescription opioid pills dispensed annually in Arizona fell by 30% from 2018 to 2021, according to the surveillance report. However, the number of annual overdose deaths increased by 80% over the same period and more than doubled since 2017.

Here are reported opioid overdose death totals from the last five years:

  • 2017: 923
  • 2018: 1,116
  • 2019: 1,294
  • 2020: 1,886
  • 2021: 2,006

After rising for three consecutive years, the number of nonfatal opioid overdoses in Arizona declined by about 10% from 2020 to 2021.

Here are reported nonfatal opioid overdoses from the last five years:

  • 2017: 1,596
  • 2018: 3,224
  • 2019: 3,497
  • 2020: 3,988
  • 2021: 3,556

The state health department provides recent and historical data about opioid overdoses in an online dashboard.

As of Thursday, the number of nonfatal opioid overdoses for 2022 was 2,069. That’s a pace to finish the year at around 3,000, which would be the fewest since 2017.

Overdose death data takes time to confirm and compile. The 2022 death section of the opioid dashboard was last updated May 19, and it shows 372 fatal overdoses.

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More than 2,000 Arizonans reported dead from opioid overdoses in 2021