Is Prescription Drug Abuse in Arizona Different than Elsewhere in the U.S.

prescription drug abuse in Arizona

It’s hard to turn your back on the current opioid epidemic across the United States. Nearly every day, news reporters and the White House will provide commentary about the subject. There are new statistics being shared about how it’s affecting communities from coast to coast. The federal government is threatening to sue drug manufacturers who were negligent in their portrayal (or lack thereof) about the ill effects and addictive nature of their prescription pills. Although new rulings in Arizona have made it more difficult for medical practitioners to prescribe these medications to their patients, the rate of opioid overdoses in Arizona is startling. From pain pills to heroin, the problem is hurting communities and families. Prescription drug abuse in Arizona is serious stuff.

History of Prescription Pill Use

Prescription medications are drugs designed to treat a disease or offer relief to a person dealing with a medical condition. These medications have the tendency to bring substantial and beneficial change to people with medical issues such as cancer or asthma, anxiety or depression, making their lives more manageable and enjoyable.

However, it’s easy for the user to gain dependency on them, turning into a prescription drug abuse, within a mere couple of weeks’ time. In addition, with drug manufacturers advertising their products directly to the public and patients asking their doctors for specific medications, an individual’s right to have a say in their health care choices and physicians not advising them properly may be causing harm. We are a culture of pill poppers.

It Started with Opium

Opium is the most common prescription drug that quickly turns its users into addicts. Opium has a long history dating back to the Neolithic age where ancient surgeons used it for relieving pain and as a sedative during surgical procedures. Generally used for medicinal and recreational purposes since the 15th century, opium was misused in China. Its people smoked opium and was perceived as a symbol of wealth.

Years later, morphine was extracted from opium in the 19th century and used in the treatment of American Civil War soldiers. Subsequently, these same soldiers were addicted to the drug.

Heroin came into the fold after morphine. The intention was to make a drug less addictive than morphine, but the results missed the mark. Opium was banned in the United States and only allowed in regulated, legal medications. But just because a drug is labeled legal doesn’t change the addictive natures. People don’t grow dependent on a drug due its labeling (legal or street) – addiction comes from the chemical properties and how the body and the brain crave them.

Predisposition to Prescription Pain Pill Addiction

opioid epidemic across the United States

The following are characteristics that indicate a person’s heightened risk in developing addiction to opioids. However, these are some of the same factors that increase one’s risk for developing addictions to other substances.

  • Family history of drug consumption
  • Existing mental health condition such as depression and anxiety
  • Peer pressure, social environment, need for acceptance

But with prescription pills, there is an additional circumstance that other addictions cannot claim.

We trust our doctors.
They prescribe medications.
People weren’t told they were addictive.
Drug use continues or they search for an alternative.
The alternative is heroin.

The heroin problem in Tucson, for example is a growing problem. People in Phoenix and Scottsdale wanting to continue their use of prescription drugs get creative and purchase from friends that are prescribed the drugs but don’t use them. And then there’s the black market too.

Whose Mess Is Prescription Drug Abuse Anyway? Policymakers or Patients?

If we continue to play the blame game on how Arizona got to where we’re at with the incidents of prescription drug addiction and the overdoses from it, little headway will be made in finding a solution. But it’s the where we’re at that’s frightening:

The amount of Rx opioids prescribed in AZ gives
each person in our state a 2 ½ week supply.

75% of heroin users currently in treatment started with pain pills.

3,114 reported overdoses in Arizona for 2017.

5,202 people in Arizona suspected of experiencing opioid overdose.

812 people in Arizona died of opioid overdose in 2017.

Opioid Pill Addiction Is Everyone’s Problem

There’s a reason why Arizona advocates and promotes that every household should have a medical kit that includes one use of an overdose reversal medication, Naloxone. A popular pharmacist/retailer in our state, CVS pharmacy, was selling a form of that overdose reversal drug, Narcan, as a nasal spray and injection. Billboards could be seen across the state advising people where they could get their hands on some. Because prescription drug abuse in Arizona is that bad.

With new drug prevention programs, tighter prescription dispensing guidelines and community support, the opioid epidemic across the United States is easing up. The Drug Enforcement Agency began a Prescription Drug Take Back Day that allows people to safely discard expired or unused prescriptions so that they aren’t available for family and friends seeking to misuse them. For Arizona, more funding for addiction treatment programs has been put forth by our Governor Doug Ducey. In addition, he added a Good Samaritan Law in our Arizona Opioid Epidemic Act.

Arizona Good Samaritan Law Helps Stop Fatal Overdoses

In April, Arizona was the 41st state to enact a Good Samaritan Law that essentially protects victims of potential opioid overdose and those who elect to alert law enforcement of the situation. Because many people who abuse opioids tend to do so while in the company of others, the new law provides a safe harbor for other users if they call 9-1-1 to send help for someone else in the throes of overdosing.

Once law enforcement shows up, the person who made the call to 9-1-1 can provide additional information about the person who is overdosing, without the risks of being charged for drug-related crimes that may be evident on scene. Other states with similar laws are experiencing a 9 to 11 percent decrease in fatal opioid overdoses.

Do More by Staying Informed, Help Is Here When You Need It

Melanie SternAuthored by Melanie Stern, Content Director for Scottsdale Recovery Center, Arizona Addiction Recovery Centers and Cohn Media, LLC. Writer and broadcaster covering the following industries: addiction rehab, health care, entertainment, technology and advocate of clear communication, positivity and humanity at its best.