Opioid overdoses have fallen drastically throughout Arizona this year, according to state health department records, but Mohave County’s work in fighting the opioid epidemic isn’t done yet.
The Mohave County Board of Supervisors is expected to vote next week on whether to approve a memorandum of understanding between the county’s health department and nonprofit social services organization, WestCare Arizona. The organization would provide substance abuse treatment services for county patients, including those with opioid use disorder, in order to further reduce the risk of opioid addiction and fatalities in Mohave County. The organization will also provide a 24-hour crisis “hotline” for local patients and their families.
So far in October, 99 opioid overdoses have been reported throughout Arizona – the lowest number since the Arizona Department of Health Services began publishing its monthly opioid report in June 2017. Since the state’s reporting began, 500 opioid overdoses have been reported throughout Mohave County.
Opioid overdoses have already fallen sharply since August 2020, when the number of Arizona opioid overdoses peaked at 514 cases. Recent regulations have limited opioid distribution throughout the U.S., and state officials are making efforts to further educate the public and physicians about how dangerous those prescriptions can be.
Five years ago, Mohave County had more opioid prescriptions than it had residents. For every 100 Mohave County residents, about 127.5 opioid prescriptions were distributed in 2016, according to CDC statistics. Despite being home to only 3% of Arizona’s population, Mohave County had become one of the state’s epicenters for opioid distribution. By contrast, there were about 68.2 opioid prescriptions per 100 people in Maricopa County in the same year.
Throughout Arizona, state records show that almost 40% of reported fentanyl overdoses have been fatal; compared to a 16% fatality rate for heroin overdoses, 28% fatality rate for morphine and 6% for oxycodone. According to the state health department, the fatality rate for fentanyl overdose was almost equal to that of cocaine and methamphetamine overdoses.
The Arizona Opioid Epidemic Act was passed in January 2018, which limited first prescriptions for adults to five days, and aligned state dosage levels with federal guidelines. The state also invested $10 million to aid in providing access to treatment for opioid addiction. The law followed an executive order by Gov. Ducey in October 2016, which limited the number of patients who could qualify for opioid prescriptions.
The county’s governing board will vote on whether to approve the proposal with WestCare Arizona at its Nov. 1 meeting in Kingman.