The Opioid Crisis: How is Northern Arizona Being Affected?

Lauren Lauder, Senior Vice President Northern Arizona for Southwest Behavioral & Health Services

Lauren Lauder, Senior Vice President Northern Arizona for Southwest Behavioral & Health Services

There is no question that when it comes to the opioid epidemic in our country, considering it a crisis would not be an understatement.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, every day, more than 115 people in the United States die from an opioid overdose. What’s even more alarming is that in 2016 (last known numbers) death from opioid overdose was at 46 people per day, more than 40 percent of which involved a prescription opioid.

This current crisis is one that can be traced back to the 1980s and 90s, when patients with terminal illnesses were first treated with prescription opioids and then with the introduction of OxyContin in 1996. From this point forward, prescription drug abuse has escalated at an alarming rate with the death toll quadrupling between 1999 and 2015.

In Arizona alone, there have been 7,291 possible opioid overdoses reported since June 2017, according to a report from the Arizona Department of Health Services. Of those overdoses, 16 percent of them were fatal.

In Kingman specifically, there have been more than 60 suspected opioid overdoses without fatality since June 2017, classifying our community amongst some of the most saturated in the state. As a whole, Mohave County, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services, has recorded between 101 and 322 possible opioid overdoses reported since June 2017.

Which drugs are considered opioids?

Opioids are a class of drugs naturally found in the opium poppy plant. Opioids are often used as medicines as they contain chemicals that relax the body and can relieve pain. These drugs include the illegal drug heroin, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, and pain relievers available legally by prescription, such as oxycodone (OxyContin®), hydrocodone (Vicodin®), codeine, morphine and many others.

Recognizing the signs of opioid abuse

Some physical signs of opiate addiction and abuse may include:

• Someone who is noticeably euphoric or extremely happy after taking a dose of a drug

• After euphoria subsides, another physical symptom is often a feeling of sedation or tiredness

• Confusion

• Constricted pupils

• Nodding off at random times or loss of consciousness

• Slower breathing rate

• Constipation

• Slower reaction times and movements

Physical symptoms are sometimes hard to spot, so be aware of these behavioral and lifestyle symptoms of opioid abuse:

• Withdrawing from activities and commitments

• Loss of interest

• Change in habit or routines

• Irritability and angry outbursts

• Anxiety and nervousness

• Neglecting physical appearance

• Stealing money or pills from relatives

• Extreme behavior

Where are we now?

Many states, including Arizona, are improving access to Nalaxone, a drug that can reverse opioid overdoses, and creating “Good Samaritan” laws so those reporting an overdose won’t result in an arrest. Pharmaceutical companies are making it harder for their products to be abused. Our federal government has also been advocating for doctors to prescribe other types of pain relief, like ibuprofen and exercise therapy, and to give the lowest dose necessary of any opioids.

Additionally, Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT), the use of medications in combination with counseling and behavioral therapies, has become widely utilized for the treatment of substance use disorders to provide a “whole-patient” approach to treatment.

There are three medications commonly used to treat opioid addiction are Methadone, Naltrexone and Buprenorphine.

If there is a silver lining, it’s that the number of prescriptions have gone down in recent years. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention surveyed opioid prescriptions and broke them down county by county, finding that the amount of opioids prescribed peaked in 2010 at 782 morphine milligram equivalents per person that year. By 2015, that number had fallen slightly to 640 per person. Although this number is still much too high, we can only hope that it continues to decrease.

For unused medication, there are two main medicine take-back options available to you. The DEA periodically hosts National Prescription Drug Take-Back events and they also have a list of permanent registered collectors.

If you suspect someone is using or if you are addicted, we encourage you to reach out to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Helpline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357), or the local crisis hotline, (877) 756-4090.