In 2021, an average of five people per day in Arizona died of an opioid overdose, data from the Arizona Department of Health Services shows.
Arizona opioid overdose deaths more than doubled between 2017 and 2021, with the COVID-19 pandemic and fentanyl use exacerbating the problem.
Two factors driving continued overdoses are an increased number of people who turned to illegal substances during the COVID-19 pandemic, and also a proliferation of cheap fentanyl into Arizona. Fentanyl is a cheap, highly potent, synthetic opioid.
Methamphetamine, a stimulant, and fentanyl are the most commonly used illicit drugs involved in overdoses in the state, though fentanyl is becoming increasingly dominant.
Those using fentanyl tend to be younger than those using methamphetamine.
Here are five things to know about opioid use disorder in Arizona:
Kids are especially vulnerable to fentanyl
In some cases, kids are buying cheap pills via people they meet on social media.
Some kids believe the pills they are buying are pharmaceutical drugs like Xanax and Adderall, not knowing that they've been illegally manufactured and contain fentanyl.
Since fentanyl is so potent, some of those kids end up overdosing and even dying, which is why the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has a campaign titled "One Pill Can Kill."
Fentanyl overdose deaths among kids 17 and younger in Arizona more than doubled between 2019 and 2020.
Know the signs of an opioid overdose
Any opioid overdose is life-threatening and requires immediate emergency attention.
If someone is not breathing, is struggling to breathe or unresponsive, call their name and rub your knuckles on their chest (sternum-rub), officials with the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System say.
If the person is still unresponsive, they may be experiencing an overdose, according to AHCCCS. Other signs that may help identify an overdose are blue or pale skin color, small pupils, low blood pressure, slow heart rate and slow or shallow breathing.
The federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration lists the following signs of an overdose. (Individuals may exhibit one ore more symptoms):
Their face is extremely pale and/or feels clammy to the touch.
Their body goes limp.
Their fingernails or lips have a purple or blue color.
They start vomiting or making gurgling noises.
They cannot be awakened or are unable to speak.
Their breathing or heartbeat slows or stops.
Call 911 quickly; Arizona has a good Samaritan law that protects whoever reports an overdose
Don't delay calling 911 if a friend or loved one has overdosed.
Arizona's good Samaritan law prohibits an individual who calls 911 to report an overdose from being charged or prosecuted for possession of a controlled substance, as long as the evidence emerged solely because of the 911 call.
Individuals may be prosecuted for other crimes, not drug-related, at the scene and arrested, the state law says.
After calling 911, know what to do
It may be hard to tell whether a person is high or experiencing an overdose. If you aren’t sure, treat it like an overdose, the CDC says. Here's what to do:
Call 911 immediately. (Most states have laws similar to Arizona that may protect a person who is overdosing or the person who called for help from legal trouble.)
Administer the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone (often known by the brand name Narcan), if available.
Try to keep the person awake and breathing.
Lay the person on their side to prevent choking.
Stay with the person until emergency assistance arrives.
Here's a video from the Arizona-based nonprofit Sonoran Prevention Works that shows how to use the nasal version of naloxone: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yAKj6gDrFfE
Another Sonoran Prevention Works video shows how to use naloxone administered with a needle and vial: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4sVxWLR62CE.
The Arizona Department of Health Services director issued a standing order on Nov. 11, 2017, that allows any Arizona-licensed pharmacist to dispense naloxone to any individual without a prescription.
Some insurance plans will cover the cost or part of the cost. Retail prices vary but average about $94.37 for a box containing two nasal sprays, according to a recent search via GoodRx.
Naloxone is available free at various community organizations, drug awareness events and from some police stations.
The Arizona nonprofit Sonoran Prevention Works has a tool of where the public can find free naloxone: https://spwaz.org/arizonanaloxone/.
The Substance Abuse Coalition Leaders of Arizona maintains a list of community distribution sites for naloxone at https://naloxoneaz.com/save-a-life/.
Opioid crisis: The 3 waves of the overdose epidemic in Arizona, explained
Hotlines, support groups and other resources can help
Never Use Alone is a hotline operated by volunteers. Illicit drug users may call 800-484-3731 to have someone stay on the line with them while they are using and to ensure emergency medical services are called if the drug user at any point stops responding. Since it's operated by volunteers the hotline may not be available 24/7.
Parents of Addicted Loved Ones (PAL): https://palgroup.org/. The Phoenix-based organization was incorporated as a Christian-run nonprofit in 2015 and has more than two dozen groups in the Phoenix area and in Tucson. PAL may be contacted by phone at 480-300-4712 or by email at Info@palgroup.org
Grief Recovery After Substance Passing (GRASP): http://grasphelp.org/. The organization describes itself as for people who have lost someone to substance use or addiction. It has chapters in Canada and the U.S., including in Arizona.
Arizona Teen Lifeline: 800-248-TEEN (8336), which is available 24/7 and is an Arizona support line for teens operated by teens.
Sonoran Prevention Works: https://spwaz.org/. The Phoenix-based group works to improve the lives of people who use drugs through street-based outreach, organizational capacity building, and state-wide advocacy work. It offers naloxone and other supplies and conducts HIV and Hepatitis C testing events. The group may be contacted at 480-442-7886 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Substance Abuse Coalition Leaders of Arizona focuses on preventing substance misuse in youths: https://saclaz.org/
The Arizona Department of Health Services OARLine (Opioid Assistance + Referral Line): 888-688-4222. The state launched the OARLine line in March 2018 in partnership with Arizona’s Poison and Drug Information Centers. It's available to provide information and referrals to the public and for health care clinicians to call for free consultation on patients with complex pain or opioid use disorder.
Additional ADHS resources: https://www.azdhs.gov/opioid/
The U.S. government has a helpline for people seeking treatment at 800-662-HELP (4357) or at https://findtreatment.gov/
Arizona's Medicaid program, called the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, has an opioid treatment service locator: https://opioidservicelocator.azahcccs.gov/
The federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has a treatment locator: https://findtreatment.samhsa.gov/locator
More information about opioid use disorder and treatment for people enrolled in AHCCCS: https://www.azahcccs.gov/Members/BehavioralHealthServices/OpioidUseDisorderAndTreatment/index.html
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has a One Pill Can Kill campaign: https://www.dea.gov/onepill
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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Here are resources for Arizonans with opioid use disorder