Gov. Doug Ducey is claiming progress on getting the opioid crisis under control even as the rate of overdoses shows no sign of abating.
At a press conference today, the governor said the number of legal prescriptions for opioids written in June was down by about 40 percent from the same time a year earlier. And he said the total number of pills dispensed was down 43 percent.
He also said a larger percentage of people who have had overdoses are being referred for mental health treatment.
“This is significant measurable progress,” he said.
Lawmakers approved a package of new laws in January designed to confront the escalating problem of opioid abuse.
One key provision limits what doctors can prescribe, both in dosages and number of days. That is based on studies which show that the chance of addiction for someone prescribed pain pills doubles after six days and doubles again after 12.
Another provision is designed to prevent patients from “doctor shopping” to get more drugs.
Despite all that, other figures from the Department of Health Services show that people overdosing and dying of opiods from legal or other sources have not decreased.
In January, as the law was being adopted, the number of possible opioid overdoses was running between 126 and 152 a week. The figures since June 1 have ranged from 152 to as high as 224 a week.
Ducey concedes the point.
“We’ve said that there is a real challenge here,” the governor said.
He said lives are being saved, not only from tightening up on legal access to opioids but also the greater availability of naloxone, a drug that can be administered to counter the effects of opioids and help save someone who would otherwise die of an overdose.
Tony Morales, a detective for the Department of Public Safety, got to be the first officer from his agency to use the drug just this past week.
Morales said he heard a radio call from Douglas police being sent to investigate an unconscious man near Pirtleville. When they arrived, they called for someone who could administer Narcan, the brand name of the counter-opioid drug.
“When I got on scene, I didn’t think this subject was alive,” Morales said. “He was blue, he was purple, he was unresponsive to anything we were doing to him.”
Morales said the man started breathing after he administered two doses. He added that the man, before being put into a helicopter, thanked him.
“To see him in the back of the ambulance, looking at us, talking, it was amazing,” Morales said. “I thought I was looking at a ghost.”
State Health Director Cara Christ said that kind of incident backs up the decision to train police officers and first respondents in administering the drug and providing them with kits.
“In an opioid overdose, minutes matter,” she said. Christ said her agency has provided more than 6,300 naloxone kits to 63 law enforcement agencies, with nearly 1,000 officers trained in how to administer the drug.
The result, she said, is officers have administered the medication 549 times to 405 people — some require multiple doses — since last June.
“In all but nine cases, the individual survived the immediate overdose and was transported to a hospital for further care,” Christ said. “That’s almost one life saved per day since our opioid emergency was declared.”