older man dumping pills in hand

Prescription Drug Abuse

The abuse of opioids in our country has become a national crisis. While you may think the problem stems from the use of illegal drugs, such as heroin, in many cases its everyday people- grandparents, parents and young people that become addicted to doctor-prescribed pain medications such as fentanyl and codeine.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that in 2015, 12.5 million people misused prescription opioids and more than 33,000 people died from overdosing on opioids.

In 2016, the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) revealed that 790 Arizonans died from opioid overdose, an average of more than two people per day. Since 2012 opioid deaths in our state have increased 74 percent.

To combat this growing problem, the city of Surprise has implemented some strategies, including the creation of a website filled with information and resources to connect people that are fighting this addiction to those that can help them. A visit to www.surpriseaz.gov/opioidhelp will connect you to various local and national resources and support agencies working to end opioid abuse.

You will also find a link to an ADHS report, ordered by Governor Ducey, which includes legislative proposals to combat this epidemic. They include:

  • Imposing a five-day limit on all first fills for opioid patients to decrease the risk of dependence
  • Requiring e-prescribing for some controlled substance medications to mitigate fraudulent prescriptions
  • Requiring pharmacists to check if a patient has been prescribed both an opioid and a benzodiazepine- a combination proven to increase the risk of overdose

The report also recommends more first responders be trained on the use of naloxone (Narcan), used to help reverse an opioid overdose. In Surprise, both Fire-Medical and Police personnel are trained on the use of Narcan.

Fire-Medical has also established partnerships with substance abuse facilities that allow for direct transfer and immediate evaluation of patients as part of the new Treat and Refer program.

The city also has a RX Drop-off location in our Police Department lobby (14250 W. Statler Plaza), where you can safely dispose of your unwanted or expired prescription drugs.

Our Surprise TV channel continues to air ASU’s Cronkite School of Journalism production Hooked RX: from prescription to addiction, which focuses on the abuse of prescription drugs. This is a follow-up to the Hooked: Tracking Heroin’s Hold on Arizona video they produced a few years ago, in which former Surprise Police Chief Mike Frazier was interviewed for. You can find links to both videos on the website.

While opioid abuse is a public health crisis, it is also a public safety concern. I have read stories where a person that became addicted to a prescription opioid turned to criminal activity when their doctor stopped their prescription. The addiction forced some to steal prescription pads to write out fraudulent prescriptions. While others turned to drug dealers to obtain illegal opioids, which are much stronger and can result in overdose.

The opioid epidemic took decades to create and we will not solve it overnight. It will take legislative and financial support at the federal level, in addition to state legislation to turn things around. It will take patients asking their doctors about alternative non-addicting prescriptions. It will take all of us to become better informed and to connect those that are fighting this addiction to the people that can help them.

If you have any questions about this issue or want to discuss it further, please reach out to me at 623.222.1322 or email me at jim.hayden@surpriseaz.gov.