Arizona Governor Declares State Of Emergency Over Opioid Deaths

By Kelly Burch 06/07/17

Opioid-related overdose deaths are up 74% since 2013 in the state.

Governor Doug Ducey
Governor Doug Ducey Photo By Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, via Wikimedia Commons

Opioid-related overdose deaths have reached a record high in Arizona, prompting Governor Doug Ducey to declare a statewide health emergency. 

The governor’s emergency declaration called on the Arizona Department of Health Services to establish prescribing guidelines, provide naloxone training to law enforcement and provide a report with additional needs and responses to the governor’s office by September 5. 

“As the number of opioid overdoses and deaths increase at an alarming rate, we must take action. It’s time to call this what it is—an emergency,” Ducey said in a statement. “Most of us know someone impacted by substance abuse—our family, our friends, our neighbors. Our hearts ache for them, but that isn’t enough. We must do more. I’m declaring a statewide health emergency because we need to know more about the epidemic, including enhanced data that illustrates when and where these overdoses occur so that we can develop real, targeted solutions.”

By declaring a state of emergency, Ducey hopes to streamline federal, state and private resources in order to better combat the opioid crisis, the statement said. 

“The only way we will be able to make an impact in the opioid epidemic is to come together as a community, and this declaration helps us move forward quickly,” said Dr. Cara Christ, director of the Arizona Department of Health Services. “We will look into improving prescription practices, addressing poly drug use, and analyzing raw data on overdose deaths that occur to see where the problem areas are and learn how we can make changes to save lives.”

Last year, 790 Arizonans died from opioid overdoses. That represents an increase of 74% over four years. 

Sheila Sjolander of the Arizona Department of Health Services told Arizona public media that there needs to be increased awareness of the epidemic and the dangers of misusing prescription drugs. 

“I think it’s really important to remember that these are real people and real families behind these numbers,” she says. With an average of more than two Arizonans dying each day from opioid-related overdoses, the impact of opioids is undeniable. 

"Certainly, no one intends on becoming addicted to a painkiller and going down that tragic path,” Sjolander said. She added that people who have a loved one who abuses opioids should ask for a prescription for naloxone, the overdose-reversing opioid antagonist. 

Finally, Sjolander urged people dealing with chronic pain to work with doctors to address that issue in the healthiest way possible. 

"If you’re suffering from chronic pain, we encourage folks to talk to their health care provider about options for treatment that don’t involve opioids," she said. "There are effective treatments out there."

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.