Five Arizona counties lead the state in number of deaths from prescription opioids overdoses, mimicking a trend of opioid abuse nationwide.
Data from Arizona Department of Health Services for drug-induced deaths show people in rural areas are more likely to overdose on prescription pain medications than those in cities. The drug-induced deaths can be seen in higher number in Mohave, Yavapai, Gila, Navajo and Pima counties.
Overprescription for opioids such as hydrocodone, oxycodone, oxymophone and morphine to relieve pain has created a national opioid and heroin abuse epidemic. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the misuse and misappropriation of opioids has led to an estimated 2.1 million people in the United States suffering from substance abuse disorders.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that opioid overdose deaths increased significantly, from 7.9 per 100,000 in 2013 to 9.0 in 2014, a 14 percent increase. Research from the White House from 2011 on prescription drug abuse crisis points out that the opioid medication by dosage by milligram per person has increased in the U.S. by 402 percent during the years 1997 to 2007.
The U.S leads the world’s consumption of hydrocodone and oxycodone, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), making prescription drug abuse the fastest growing-growing problem in the nation. Overprescription of opioids medication contributes to the epidemic.
In February, President Obama proposed spending $1.1 billion to fight the prescription drug and heroin use epidemic.
Last September, Arizona received a $3.6 million CDC grant from (CDC) to initiate services to deal with the problem.
Arizona is 10th in the nation with the highest overdose rate. In 2013, hydrocodone and oxycodone accounted for 82.6 percent of all pain relievers in Arizona.
According to the Pima County Medical Examiner’s office, 324 people died from drug overdose deaths in 2014. The office’s 2014 annual report showed that the main drugs leading to overdose deaths were heroin, oxycodone and morphine.
One Arizona county, Mohave, led the state in drug deaths per capita. Yavapai county led the state in second place in drug deaths per capita. It had 42 drug-related deaths in 2015, of which opioids counted for 14 of those deaths while 28 were due to mixed drug intoxication and alcohol and drug intoxication. Heroine death is also increasing in the county. The youngest person to die due to opioid overdose was 20 and the oldest was 51.
How to solve the prescription drug epidemic has doctors searching for alternatives to opioid medications.
“I think that the treatment is there,” said Dr. Michael Genovese, chief medical officer of Sierra Tucson.
Sierra Tucson Treatment Center offers clinical treatment programs that help those who are suffering from addiction and a wide range of complex behavioral health disorders.
“There are more and more innovative treatments that are more and more helpful,” Genovese said.
Medicines have been developed to treat opioid addiction in pill and in implant forms such as naltrexone and buprenorphine. Buprenorphine is a partial antagonist, meaning that it partially activates the opioids receptors in the brain.
CODAC is a Tucson health care center that helps those who cannot afford the treatment.
According to Kristine Welter Hall, the senior vice president of marketing, fundraising and planning at the CODAC, the program has seen major increases in patients who are addicted to opiates in the last year.
Svetlana Popovic is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at Spopovic@email.arizona.edu.