Opioid Epidemic

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Governor Doug Ducey has declared an emergency because of the Opioid epidemic that killed nearly 800 Arizonans last year. We’ll hear from Dr. Cara Christ, Director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, and former Mesa city councilman Scott Somers, who was a contributor and signatory to the Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health document, “The Prescription Opioid Epidemic.”

COMING UP NEXT ON "ARIZONA HORIZON," THE GOVERNOR HAS DECLARED A STATE OF EMERGENCY BECAUSE OF OUR OPIOID EPIDEMIC. AND WE'LL TALK CITY ISSUES WITH CHANDLER MAYOR JAY TIBSHRAENY INCLUDING HOW CITIES FARED WITH LAWMAKERS THIS PAST SESSION. THAT'S NEXT ON "ARIZONA HORIZON." "ARIZONA HORIZON" IS MADE POSSIBLE BY THE FRIENDS OF ARIZONA PBS. MEMBERS OF YOUR PBS STATION. THANK YOU.

CATHERINE ANAYA: GOOD EVENING AND WELCOME TO "ARIZONA HORIZON." I'M CATHERINE ANAYA IN FOR TED SIMONS. GOVERNOR DOUG DUCEY ON MONDAY DECLARED AN EMERGENCY TO DEAL WITH ARIZONA'S OPIOID EPIDEMIC THAT CAME AFTER A REPORT SHOWING OVERDOSE DEATHS FROM OPIOIDS UP 74 PERCENT IN FOUR YEARS. AS PART OF THE EMERGENCY DECLARATION, THE ARIZONA DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH SERVICES OPENED A HEALTH EMERGENCY OPERATIONS CENTER. TYLER FINGERT WAS AT THE CENTER AS IT LAUNCHED.

TYLER FINGERT: NEW URGENCY IN THE FIGHT AGAINST OPIOID OVERDOSES. AT THE HEALTH EMERGENCY OPERATION CENTER IN PHOENIX, THIS IS WHAT THEY HAVE BEEN PREPARING FOR.

WENDY SMITH-REEDE: EVERY SITUATION HAS A FOCUS, THIS ONE BEING OPIOID, IS NEW FOR US.

TYLER FINGERT: THE OPERATION CENTER IS A STATEWIDE MULTI-AGENCY COORDINATION CENTER WITH A GOAL OF PROTECTING THE PUBLIC FROM HEALTH THREATS. THE STATE HAS BEEN LOOKING AT THE PROBLEM FOR A WHILE, BUT WITHOUT RELIABLE DATA, IT'S DIFFICULT TO TRACK.

CARA CHRIST: WE DON'T HAVE GREAT DATA ON OPIOID DEATHS. WE NOTICED IN OCTOBER, WE WERE UPDATING DEATHS THAT OCCURRED IN JANUARY.

TYLER FINGERT: THE HEALTH DEPARTMENT IS LOOKING AROUND THE COUNTRY, LOOKING TO OTHER STATES WITH THE BEST WAY TO HANDLE THE PROBLEM WITH THE GOAL OF MAKING ARIZONA GOOD OR BETTER.

CARA CHRIST: I DON'T KNOW THAT WE HAVE CATCHING UP TO DO. I THINK THE ENTIRE NATION HAS BEEN IMPACTED. SOME STATES HAVE BEST PRACTICES. IN ARIZONA, WE HAVE BEST PRACTICES.

CATHERINE ANAYA: THIS IS THE FIRST STATEWIDE EMERGENCY IN TEN YEARS. WITH MORE ON WHAT THE STATE WILL DO TO COMBAT THE EPIDEMIC IS ERIC CHRIS AND SCOTT SOMERS A FORMER MESA CITY COUNCILMAN WHO WAS A CONTRIBUTOR AND TO THE JOHN HOPKINS UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH. WHAT IS THE STATE OF EMERGENCY INTENDED TO DO?

CARA CHRIST: IT'S INTENDED TO FOCUS THE PUBLIC HEALTH SYSTEM ON THE EPIDEMIC LIKE WE WOULD IN EBOLA OR HEALTH OUTBREAK. TARGETING COMMUNITIES, GIVING US INFORMATION ABOUT WHAT INTERVENTIONS TO IMPLEMENT TO SAVE LIVES IS ONE OF THE MAJOR POINTS OF THE DECLARATION.

CATHERINE ANAYA: AND IT'S LONG OVER DUE. COULD THE PROBLEM BE EVEN WORSE AND IT'S JUST UNDER-REPORTED AT THIS POINT?

SCOTT SOMERS: IT COULD. PART OF THE PROBLEM WE ARE HAVING TRACKING OUR MEDICAL ISSUES IS THAT OUR DATA SETS OFTEN DON'T TALK TO ONE ANOTHER. THERE IS DECENT DATA COMING OUT OF THE EMERGENCY DEPARTMENTS THAT TALK ABOUT THE SCOPE OF THIS PROBLEM. BUT WHERE IT'S NOT CONNECTING, COMMUNITY PARAMEDICS ARE PROVIDING HEALTHCARE AND ABLE TO COUNTERACT THE OVERDOSES. THOSE MAY NOT GET BACK TO THE STATE. THIS COULD BE A VERY UNDER REPORTED PROBLEM.

CATHERINE ANAYA: WELL, AND YOU KNOW THIS FIRSTHAND BECAUSE YOU WERE A PARAMEDIC, WHAT ARE YOU SEEING OUT THERE ON THE STREETS?

SCOTT SOMERS: WE ARE SEEING A SIGNIFICANT RISE IN THE NUMBER OF OVERDOSES AND OVERDOSE DEATHS, NOT JUST IN PHOENIX BUT NATIONALLY AS WELL. WHAT'S DRIVING THAT ARE PRESCRIPTION MEDICATIONS FOR PAIN. OFTEN TIMES PEOPLE WILL GET THESE PRESCRIPTIONS. THEY WON'T COMPLETE THEM. THEY SIT IN THE CLOSET AND THEN THEY ARE SHARED WITH FRIENDS OR TAKEN BY FAMILY MEMBERS AND ABUSED.

CATHERINE ANAYA: THE PROBLEM HERE IS THAT PEOPLE AREN'T TAKING THESE TO BECOME ADDICTED AND IT BECOMES A GATEWAY TO HEROIN OVERDOSES, RIGHT?

CARA CHRIST: ABSOLUTELY. MOST PEOPLE BELIEVE, IT'S PRESCRIBED BY A DOCTOR. IT'S SAFE AND WE UNDERESTIMATED THE ADDICTIVENESS OF THESE MEDICATIONS AND HOW DEADLY THEY CAN BE. WE NEED PEOPLE TO UNDERSTAND THAT THESE ARE DANGEROUS, THESE ARE ADDICTIVE, AND THEY CAN HAVE DEADLY CONSEQUENCES OR IF YOU TAKE TOO MUCH PEOPLE DON'T TAKE THE MEDICATIONS. THEY ARE LOOKING FOR PAIN RELIEF AND THEY DON'T UNDERSTAND THE PAIN RELIEF.

CATHERINE ANAYA: WHEN YOU TALK ABOUT THE PEOPLE THIS IA AFFECTING, WHO ARE WE TALKING ABOUT? SPECIFIC AGE GROUP?

CARA CHRIST: THIS IS IMPACTING OUR ENTIRE SPECTRUM. OUR HIGHEST NUMBER OF DEATHS IS IN OUR 35 TO 65-YEAR-OLD AGE GROUP. A LOT OF PEOPLE THINK DRUG OVERDOSE IS SEEN IN THE YOUNGER AGES. WE ARE SEEING THIS IN THE MIDDLE AGE POPULATION. THERE IS PROBABLY A LOT OF VARIETY OF WHY THAT IS. WE JUST DON'T HAVE GREAT INFORMATION TO HELP TARGET INTERVENTIONS.

SCOTT SOMERS: WE ARE FOCUSED ON HELPING PEOPLE IDENTIFY WHEN THEY HAVE A PROBLEM AND THEN CONNECTING THEM TO THE HELP THAT THEY NEED. THE FIRE DEPARTMENT IS A GREAT PLACE TO START. PARAMOUNTS THAT SEE THIS EVERYDAY. HERE IN PHOENIX, WE HAVE A LOT OF FOLKS THAT WORK WITH THE FIRE DEPARTMENT. FIRST RESPONDERS CAN CONTACT THOSE FOLKS. THEY'LL HELP YOU GET IN TOUCH WITH DRUG ADDICTION PROGRAMS TO HELP WITH THIS PROBLEM.

CATHERINE ANAYA: YOU HAVE BEEN AT THE FOREFRONT. IN YOUR PERSONAL OPINION, WHAT DO YOU THINK IS CONTRIBUTING TO THE EPIDEMIC?

SCOTT SOMERS: I THINK IT'S A COMBINATION OF FACTORS. PEOPLE THAT ARE PRESCRIBED MEDICATIONS DON'T MAINTAIN CONTROL OF THEM. WHEN THEY ARE DONE WITH THEM, THEY DON'T DISPOSE OF THEM. EVERY CITY HAS A PROGRAM THROUGH THE FIRE DEPARTMENT OR POLICE DEPARTMENT. YOU ARE STARTING TO SEE THEM EVERYDAY IN THE DRUGSTORES WHERE YOU CAN TAKE YOUR PRECIPITATION MEDICATIONS BACK. THERE IS ALSO A PROBLEM OF OVER-PRESCRIBING. WE SEE THINGS LIKE FENTANYL IS DANGEROUS TO FIRST RESPONDERS. IT'S READILY ABSORBED. RECENTLY FIRST RESPONDERS IN OHIO WERE ACCIDENTALLY EXPOSED. IT'S AN INCREDIBLE NUMBER. IT'S A POTENT DRUG. IT'S A NECESSARY DRUG. THERE ARE THOSE WITH SURGERY THAT NEED THE DRUG BUT WHEN IT'S ON THE STREET, IT'S A HAZARD.

CATHERINE ANAYA: WILL THIS MAKE A LIMIT TO HOW MUCH CAN BE PRESCRIBED BY DOCTORS?

CARA CHRIST: SO ONE OF THE DIRECTIVES GOVERNOR DUCEY GAVE WAS TO DEVELOP RECOMMENDATIONS FOR HIM TO TAKE FORWARD. WE ARE NOT AT THAT POINT YET. WE'LL WORK WITH STAKEHOLDERS AND PARTNERS TO DETERMINE THE BEST PRACTICES.

CATHERINE ANAYA: I WANT TO PRESENT THE QUESTION TO YOU AS WELL. WHAT DO YOU THINK IS CONTRIBUTING TO THIS ISSUE? I KNOW WE TALKED ABOUT IT BEING A NUMBER OF THINGS. ANYTHING OTHER THAN SCOTT MENTIONED?

CARA CHRIST: ONE OF THE THINGS WE NEED TO BE CAREFUL AS A MEDICAL COMMUNITY, EACH STAGE NEEDS TO BE MET WITH IN A DIFFERENT MANNER. YOU WANT TO PREVENT THOSE NOT INTRODUCED TO THEM. THOSE WITH CHRONIC PAIN, YOU DON'T WANT TO CUT OFF THEIR SUPPLY. THEY NEED THE MEDICATION. YOU WANT TO WORK WITH THEM TO UNDERSTAND HOW TO USE IT SAFELY AND WEAN THEM OFF. WHEN YOU CUT THEM OFF, IT DRIVES PEOPLE TO THE ELICIT DRUGS, SUCH AS HEROIN. YOU WANT TO KEEP THEM SAFELY MONITORED BY THE MEDICAL COMMUNITY.

CATHERINE ANAYA: WHAT CAN YOU TELL ME ABOUT NARCAN AND HOW CAN IT GET TO THE PEOPLE IN THE COMMUNITY WITH HIGH NUMBERS OF DEATHS AND OVERDOSES?

CARA CHRIST: NARCAN IS THE OVERDOSE REVERSAL DRUG. IT CAN REVIVE THEM LONG ENOUGH TO GET THEM TO THE EMERGENCY ROOM. THAT'S WHAT YOU ARE TRYING TO DO TO SAVE LIVES. THE DECLARATION DIRECTS THE DEPARTMENT TO GET NARCAN INTO THE COMMUNITY. WE ARE GOING TO PURCHASE IT FOR LAW ENFORCEMENT, FIRST RESPONDERS, PUBLIC HEALTH AND THE COMMUNITY. EDUCATING THE COMMUNITY. IF YOU HAVE A LOVED ONE, YOU CAN GO TO THE PHARMACY, GET IT FROM YOUR DOCTOR, HAVE IT ON HAND, KNOW THE SIGNS OF OVERDOSE AND KNOW HOW TO ADMINISTER. THAT COULD SAVE YOUR LOVED ONE'S LIFE.

CATHERINE ANAYA: IS THAT GOING TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE, SCOTT?

SCOTT SOMERS: IT CAN MAKE A HUGE DIFFERENCE. I HAVE NARCAN HERE. THE MEDICATION WORKS ON YOUR NERVES AND HOLDS ON TO RECEPTOR SITES ON THE NERVES. THIS KICKS IT OFF. THE GOOD THING ABOUT NAR CAN, IT'S SAFE. YOU CAN TAKE IT AND IT HAS NO EFFECT ON YOU. YOU CAN PUT IT IN SOMEONE'S NOSE. IT HAS THE PROPER EFFECT WITHOUT USING A NEEDLE. THIS IS THE TYPE OF THING WE HOPE THE GOVERNOR WILL LOOK AT. WE ENCOURAGE PHYSICIANS PRESCRIBING OPIOIDS FOR PAIN RELIEF TO TEACH FAMILY MEMBERS TO USE THE MEDICATION IN CASE OF ACCIDENTAL OVERDOSE.

CATHERINE ANAYA: DO YOU THINK THAT WILL MAKE A BIG DIFFERENCE?

CARA CHRIST: I DO. WE ARE WORKING ON HOSPITAL DISCHARGE GUIDELINES TO MAKE SURE THOSE THAT GO TO THE HOSPITAL FOR OVERDOSE, WE HOOK THEM UP FOR SUBSTANCE ABUSE TREATMENT IF NECESSARY. THEY WALK OUT WITH A KNOW HOW TO USE NA CAN SAVE LIVES.

CATHERINE ANAYA: IS THE MOVE TO GIVE IT WITHOUT A PRESCRIPTION? IS THAT THE IDEA?

CARA CHRIST: LEGISLATION PASSED A BILL TO ALLOW PHARMACISTS TO DISPENSE WITHOUT A PRESCRIPTION. SOMEONE CAN GO TO THE PHARMACY AND SAY, I WOULD LIKE NARCAN AND THEY CAN GET IT

CATHERINE ANAYA: WELL WE ARE DEFINITELY GOING TO STAY ON TOP OF THIS AND THANK YOU FOR BEING HERE AND BRINGING THIS TO EVERYONE'S ATTENTION AND OF COURSE TO THE GOVERNOR FOR BACKING IT. YOU ARE WATCHING "ARIZONA HORIZON." UP NEXT, WE TALK ABOUT HOW THE LEGISLATURE PASSES LEGISLATION.

Cara Christ, M.D.: Director, Arizona Department of Health Services

Scott Somers: Former Mesa City Councilman

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