The nation’s opioid crisis reached new proportions in 2017, with provisional data revealing that there were 17 percent more deaths from drug overdoses between May 2016 and May 2017, compared to the previous year. Though the epidemic has grown over the past few years, it reached new heights this year, forcing federal and state governments to take immediate action. In October, President Donald Trump declared a public health emergency over the crisis. Earlier in 2017, the governors of Alaska, Arizona, Florida and Maryland issued a public health emergency.

From 1999-2016, more than 350,000 people died from an overdose involving any opioid, including prescription and illicit opioids.2

This rise in opioid overdose deaths can be outlined in three distinct waves.

  1. The first wave began with increased prescribing of opioids in the 1990s 3, with overdose deaths involving prescription opioids (natural and semi-synthetic opioids and methadone) increasing since at least 1999.
  2. The second wave began in 2010, with rapid increases in overdose deaths involving heroin.
  3. The third wave began in 2013, with significant increases in overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids – particularly those involving illicitly-manufactured fentanyl (IMF). The IMF market continues to change, and IMF can be found in combination with heroin, counterfeit pills, and cocaine. 2,4

Center of Disease Control (CDC) is committed to fighting the opioid overdose epidemic and supporting states and communities as they continue work to identify outbreaks, collect data, and respond to overdoses, and provide care to those in their communities. CDC’s Prevention for States and Data-Driven Prevention Initiative programmatic aims center around the enhancement of PDMPs within clinical and public health settings, insurer and community interventions, evaluation of state-level policies, and other innovative strategies that states can employ. CDC’s Enhanced State Opioid Overdose Surveillance program aims to support and build the capacity of states to monitor the epidemic by improving the timeliness and quality of surveillance data focusing on both fatal and nonfatal opioid overdose.

CDC’s work focuses on:

  • Building prevention efforts by equipping states with resources, improving data collection, and supporting the use of evidence-based prevention strategies.
  • Improving data quality and tracking trends to better understand and respond to the epidemic. Collecting and analyzing data on opioid-related overdoses to better identify areas that need assistance and to evaluate prevention efforts.
  • Supporting healthcare providers and health systems with data, tools, and guidance for evidence-based decision-making to improve opioid prescribing and patient safety.
  • Partnering with public safety officials, including law enforcement, to address the growing illicit opioid problem.
  • Encouraging consumers to make safe choices about opioids and raising awareness about prescription opioid misuse and overdose.

BUILDING COMMUNITY AWARENESS

The opioid epidemic or opioid crisis is the rapid increase in the use of prescription and non-prescription opioid drugs in the United States and Canada beginning in the late 1990s and continuing throughout the next two decades. Opioids are a diverse class of moderately strong painkillers, including oxycodone (commonly sold under the trade names OxyContin and Percocet), hydrocodone (Vicodin , Norco), and a very strong painkiller, fentanyl , which is synthesized to resemble other opiates, such as opium-derived morphine and heroin.

ARIZONA SPECIFIC STATISTICS

Four out of 10 adults in Arizona know someone who struggles with an addiction to prescription painkillers. In 2016, a total of 431 million opioid pills were prescribed to patients. That number of pills is enough for every person in the state of Arizona to have a two-and-a-half-week supply of opioids.

Opioid deaths, prescription drug deaths and heroin deaths have all increased since 2012. In fact, heroin fatalities in Arizona have tripled and opioid deaths have skyrocketed. From 2007 to 2016, hospitalizations due to prescription opioids rose by 64 per 100,000 people in Arizona. The peak was in 2011, with 162 hospitalizations per 100,000 people.

Of the possible opioid overdoses in the last eight months, 14 percent of those people were hospitalized in 2016 for a reason that involved opioid use. About 13 percent of the people who were hospitalized in 2016 died in the last eight months from a drug overdose.

Drug use statistics reveal that 39 percent of the people who experienced a possible opioid overdose in the past eight months had a prescription for opioids at least two months before their overdose. About 2 percent of the people who overdosed died as a result.

Of the fatal overdoses, 29 percent of them were using only prescription opioids and were not using any other types of drugs. Meanwhile, 32 percent of this group used more than one drug.

Though it is more dangerous to be taking multiple types of drugs, even just one prescription opioid medication can be fatal if taken too often or in large quantities.

Many different emergency medical services and law enforcement professionals administered naloxone (an opioid overdose antidote) to Arizonans from mid-2017 through March 2018. In fact, EMS, law enforcement and other individuals administered nearly 4,500 doses outside of a hospital during this time frame.

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

Because collaboration is essential for success in prevention opioid overdose deaths, CVMC Opioid Alliance will be working diligently with the community to address this complex and fast-moving epidemic. Together, we can better coordinate efforts to prevent opioid overdoses and deaths.

Submitted by Lyndsey Oltmans, Director of Pharmacy at Canyon Vista Medical Center

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