As the dramatic effects of the opioid crisis are being felt in the state of Arizona, Governor Ducey has signed a declaration of emergency to try to address the systemic and widespread problem. On June 5, the governor published a document citing the fact that there has been a 74% increase in opioid deaths in the state of Arizona between 2012 and 2016, culminating in 790 reported opioid deaths in 2016 alone, or around 2 Arizona citizens a day.
In order to respond to these circumstances, the governor first declared a state of emergency for the state, then ordered that the Arizona Department of Health Services to
- Initiate emergency rulemaking with the Arizona Attorney General's Office in order to develop rules for opioid prescribing and treatment within health care institutions
- Develop guidelines to educate healthcare providers on responsible prescribing practices
- Develop and provide training to local law enforcement agencies on proper protocols for carrying, handling and administering Naloxone in overdose situations
- Provide a report on findings and recommendations, including additional needs and response activities, and preliminary recommendations that require legislative action
The governor also issued an executive order on June 13 which orders that all information on opioid overdose and death be reported to the Department of Health Services (DHS) within 24 of the occurrence. This new order is giving citizens, law enforcement, and legislation, the first real-time look at data on the tragic consequences of opioid abuse. In the course of one week, data released by the DHS “indicates that healthcare professionals, medical examiners, and emergency responders reported 191 suspected opioid overdoses in the state.” Out of the 191 reported opioid overdoses, fifteen were fatal.
The Director of the DHS, Dr. Cara Christ, says that the state agency is also working to train law enforcement and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) on the use of Naxolone, an emergency drug which can counteract the effects of opioids, stop an overdose, and save lives. They will also work through pharmacies and clinics to educate the public about this drug.
The governor explained the new steps by pointing out that drug-related fatalities are 100% preventable. “One life lost to these highly addictive drugs is too many. One more person becoming hooked is no longer an option. Our public health response will begin working on targeted solutions to curb this opioid epidemic.” In fact, multiple studies have shown that incarceration and harsher sentences do not result in lower rates of drug use in communities. Information on five major categories surrounding opioid abuse will be posted on the DHS website every Monday, including
- The number of suspect opioid deaths
- Amount of suspect opioid overdoses
- the frequency of neonatal abstinence syndrome (symptoms related to opioid withdrawal observed in newborns)
- Number of doses of Naxolone kits sold by pharmacies to the public
- Number of doses of Naxolone administered by police, EMS, and other services
Hopefully, this new reporting of information will bring public awareness to the growing opioid epidemic and reveal the necessity for creative solutions to combat prescription drug addiction without criminalizing its victims.