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Arizona To Investigate Every Drug Overdose Death

Arizona will soon have a better idea of what’s causing people to die from drug overdoses. This week, Gov. Doug Ducey signed a new law that requires each fatality to be investigated.

Dr. Cara Christ says there are major gaps in data about overdose deaths — questions like could a death have been prevented with a medication like naloxone? Was it the result of illegal access to prescription drugs? Did someone die because of one drug or multiple?

“Right now we don’t have a good system for capturing all drug fatalities and being able to classify those,” said Christ, head of the Arizona Department of Health Services.

Her agency is tasked with setting up a team of experts to review every overdose death reported in the state. It’s modeled off of a panel created in the early 1990s to investigate childhood fatalities.

Christ said they hope the new data will lead to policy recommendations.

“I think it will give us a much better picture of the types of drugs that are involved in drug overdoses and what happens at the scene of a death. And that’s what we are missing right now," Christ said.

Deaths from opioids increased more than 40 percent in Arizona between 2005 and 2015.

Will Stone grew up with the sounds of public radio. As a senior field correspondent, he strives to tell the same kind of powerful stories that got him into the business — whether that means trudging through some distant corner of the Sonoran Desert or uncovering an unknown injustice right down the street. Since joining the KJZZ newsroom in 2015, he has covered political scandals, fights over the future of energy, and efforts to care for some of Arizona’s most vulnerable communities. His pieces have also aired on national programs like Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Here & Now and Marketplace. Before coming to KJZZ, he reported for public radio stations in Nevada and Connecticut. Stone received his degree in English literature from Haverford College, where he also wrote about the arts and culture scene in Philadelphia. After graduating, he interned at NPR West in Culver City, California, where he learned from some of the network’s veteran reporters and editors. When he doesn’t have a mic in hand, Stone enjoys climbing mountains, running through his central Phoenix neighborhood and shamelessly promoting his cat, Barry.