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Despite Improvements, Opioid Prescribing Remains High In Arizona Counties

The amount of opioids prescribed in most Arizona counties has decreased or stabilized in recent years. But new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show parts of the state still have more opioids being doled out than much of the country.

Half of U.S. counties saw a decrease in the amount of opioids prescribed per person between 2010 and 2015. In Arizona, that included Pima, Santa Cruz, Graham and Maricopa Counties. Despite that drop, seven of Arizona's counties remain in the highest quartile nationally with Mohave and Gila Counties leading the state.

“We saw higher opioid prescribing in counties with small cities or towns,” Dr. Anne Schuchat, acting director of the CDC, said on Thursday. The affected counties "had a greater percentage of white residents, were where a higher concentration of primary care physicians or dentists worked, or where more people were unsinured or unemployed.”

But Schuchat says these factors only explain about a third of the wide variation in opioid prescribing across the U.S. She says the results show a need for more consistency among providers.

Last month, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey declared the opioid epidemic a public health crisis. Since then, the state has started collecting real-time data on overdoses. The most recent numbers show that nearly 450 possible overdoses were reported in the second half of June, with the highest concentration in Maricopa and Pima Counties.

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.