State agricultural department gets in on fight against opioid abuse

Rachel Leingang//December 15, 2017

State agricultural department gets in on fight against opioid abuse

Rachel Leingang//December 15, 2017

(Stock/Karen Foley Photography)
(Stock/Karen Foley Photography)

State livestock officers are now equipped to deal with overdoses in rural areas.

The Arizona Department of Agriculture’s livestock officers will start carrying naloxone, a drug that reverses the effect of opioid overdoses.

The opioid crisis, along with other types of unintentional deaths and injuries, hit rural areas harder than their urban counterparts, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. In the past 16 years, death rates from opioid use in rural areas has quadrupled for people aged 18 to 25, the CDC said.

The agriculture department’s director, Mark Killian, said the idea was sparked by a cabinet meeting this summer where Gov. Doug Ducey was discussing the work being done to address the opioid crisis.

Killian asked if livestock officers could participate and extend the reach of the naloxone kits beyond the Department of Public Safety, sheriffs and police officers.

“Our livestock officers are law enforcement people, and they’re out in places where DPS and sheriffs never go,” Killian told the Capitol Times.

The department has 9 officers, and all but one has been trained by the Department of Health Services to administer naloxone, Killian said.

Typically, the livestock officers work on cattle-related issues, like looking at brands to make sure animals belong to people and that health papers are in order, Killian said. They also conduct animal welfare calls.

On a given day, they could travel up to 700 miles in areas traditional law enforcement doesn’t reach, Killian said.

Killian said there was no cost associated with the new task since the health department gives out naloxone kits once people receive training on them.

While the officers haven’t had a direct need to use naloxone in the past, Killian said they have seen the impact of opioid use in the course of their work throughout the state, such as drug users neglecting animals.

In a June executive order, Ducey declared a statewide health emergency because of increasing opioid overdose deaths. A state Department of Health Services report showed two deaths per day from opioid use.

The Arizona Department of Health Services shows more than 600 suspected deaths related to opioids since June, and more than 4,000 potential opioids overdoses in that time. Nearly 3,000 naloxone doses have been administered, the department reported.

Julie Murphree, the outreach director of the Arizona Farm Bureau, said it was a “wise decision” for the Department of Agriculture to train its livestock officers on naloxone use.

“It’s heartbreaking to know that individuals are battling drug addiction. Sometimes their only hope is individuals that know what to do when someone is overdosing,” Murphree said.