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Accidental Drug Deaths Up In Arizona Among Middle-Aged Women

While illegal opioid use is on the rise across the country, Arizona’s fastest-growing drug problem is with women taking legal drug prescriptions.

Dr. Mazda Shirazi with Arizona Poison and Drug Information is tracking the spike. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, accidental opioid deaths climbed by 237 percent for men between 1999 to 2010, compared with 400 percent in that same time frame for women.

“We’re seeing,” for example, said Shirazi, “working women between 45 and 55 have had one of the highest rises in non-intentional deaths.”

In these cases, he made it clear, they were not experimenting with drugs.

“Nor were they trying to harm themselves,” he continued, “this is not suicidal ideation.  These are prescription drugs that are available, and they’re taking too much of it to treat their condition or mixing it with other agents.”

The deadliest opioid combination, he said, are benzodiazepines, usually in brand names of Valium or Xanax.

Part of the issue, Shirazi said, is women in their 40s and 50s are sometimes prescribed opioids for routine aches and pains by one doctor and then unwittingly prescribed a sedative-hypnotic for anxiety, sleep or mood-disorders by another doctor.

“So, the combination of pain and anti-anxiety medications have proven to be very high risk in terms of causing morbidity and mortality,” Shirazi clarified.

Shirazi said it’s one of several reasons he is urging state lawmakers pass a bill at the Capitol allowing Arizonans to buy the opioid antidote Narcan over the counter.

Holliday Moore is a native Arizonan and veteran journalist who joined KJZZ’s news team in January 2017.Moore graduated from Arizona State University after double majoring in mass communications and marketing/management. She spent her first two decades reporting for television news, beginning in small markets and working up to congressional correspondent in Washington, D.C., for a political news service.Family commitments in Arizona brought her back to the Southwest, where she covered legislative and court beats for Albuquerque’s KRQE-TV and the infamous Four Corner Manhunt as KREZ-TV’s managing editor.Back home in Phoenix, she developed ABC15’s “Democracy Project,” now instituted at all Scripps’ news stations nationwide. Her work garnered “Best Practices” recognition by the Poynter Institute and the prestigious Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Television Political Journalism.Her television reports, from sports to cultural issues, earned her multiple Emmy and Associated Press nominations, including a Rocky Mountain Emmy for her Hopi Partition Land Act coverage.As she started a family, Moore started her own media production agency, producing magazine-style travel stories for the Emmy-winning Arizona Highways Television show while working part time for a Valley radio station. She is convinced radio is where visual, sound, and print are merging through deeper storytelling. In her relatively short time with radio network affiliates, she has won four Edward R. Murrow Awards and multiple nominations from other professional news societies.Moore now teaches advanced broadcast writing to the next generation of reporters at ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, where a high percentage have gone on to receive national awards for their work in her class. She enjoys being back home near childhood friends and sharing the beautiful Arizona desert with her husband and young son.