100 Deaths from Opioid Overdoses Each Month in Arizona
Opioid overdoses in Arizona are at their highest rate in a decade. As the opioid crisis escalates across the country, Arizona has been hit especially hard. It currently sits at second in the nation for drug-related death, coming in just behind Nevada. Worse, the numbers have been steadily rising over the last few years.
In 2016, there were 790 overdose-related deaths, representing a 16 percent increase from the previous year. Of these deaths, 482 were caused by prescription drugs; the other 308 were attributed to heroin. This year, the numbers have been even higher, with some estimates placing overdose-related deaths at around 100 per month.
These numbers reflect only a small part of the growing opioid problem in the state. Overdose deaths may be under-reported. These numbers also do not account for all of the non-lethal overdoses that are treated each month nor for the other physical, psychological and economical impacts of the drug crisis.
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The Opioid Epidemic is a Complex Issue
Many of those who develop opioid addiction are individuals who originally obtained their drugs legally through a doctor’s prescription. They may have obtained these drugs for a specific surgery or injury, or they may suffer from a chronic pain condition.
However, thanks to the highly addictive nature of opioids and their difficult withdrawal symptoms, going off of prescription drugs can prove challenging for many people. Additional factors, such as life stress and interpersonal relationship trouble, can contribute to the likelihood of developing an addiction. Once legal access to painkillers is ceased, some addicts may turn to buying their drugs off the street or switching to the comparatively cheaper illcit drug, heroin.
Since the 1990s, America has led the world in opioid prescriptions, and doctors have been known to write extensive prescriptions beyond what is actually necessary to deal with pain. For example, a patient might go to a dentist for a wisdom tooth removal and leave with a weeks-long supply of Vicodin, even though a milder painkiller would likely be just as effective after the first day or two. Having so many extra drugs left over creates opportunities for drug misuse and abuse.
Additionally, despite the real dangers posed by these drugs, prescription painkillers are often viewed by users as being safer than other kinds of drugs. There is less social stigma against taking prescription opioids, and people may not seek help for their dependency until the problem gets out of hand.
Opioids are also notoriously easy to overdose on. Drugs available on the street may not be as pure as what a user is accustomed to. They may be laced with stronger opioids, such as Fentanyl, or they may be in a higher concentration than the user is expecting. A person who has become habituated to a specific dose may also be extremely sensitive to that same dosage after a period without any drugs; when tolerance wanes, a previously safe dose can cause a deadly overdose.
A Holistic Look at Opioid Addiction
Because so many people get hooked on prescription drugs, one suggested solution to controlling the epidemic is to limit the amount of opioid drugs in circulation. That has been the suggestion of Dr. Cara Christ, Arizona’s head health official. Dr. Christ suggests heavy restrictions placed on opioid prescriptions, preventing doctors from prescribing more than are absolutely necessary.
Other solutions, such as the growing availability of the overdose-reversing drug NARCAN®, can help to reduce the amount of opioid-related deaths. However, these measures do not strike at the root of the problem. Being revived does not put an addict into recovery; without further treatment, the user may end up overdosing again in the future.
The reality is that drug addiction is complex, and no single solution will help to solve Arizona’s opioid crisis. While issues are being discussed and implemented on a policy level, it’s important for individuals to obtain the care and intervention that they need.
At Desert Cove Recovery we recognize that addiction is deeply personal and affects each person differently. We offer treatment programs that help people to get sober and stay that way by addressing the underlying causes and contributing factors to their addiction. For more information about our program, contact us today.