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Arizona Opioid Deaths Appear To Be Going Up Even Faster Than In 2016

Almost half a year since Arizona declared the opioid crisis a statewide health emergency, overdose deaths appear to be going up even faster than in 2016, according to preliminary numbers.

Five hundred sixty-four people are suspected of dying from opioid-related overdoses between mid-June and mid-November, which is when the state began tracking overdose deaths in real time.

“If all of these were to be confirmed, we would be trending higher than we did in 2016,” said Dr. Cara Christ, director of the Arizona Department of Health Services.

Close to 800 people died in total last year. But those were confirmed deaths, meaning health officials checked the toxicology results. The new real-time data, which Christ says is critical for understanding what’s happening on the ground, hasn’t undergone that vetting yet.

“If these numbers are true, then we would be very very worried. If I had to make an educated guess, I would say about 60 to 70 percent of them will be confirmed,” she said.

That would put the state roughly on track to have the same number of deaths as last year. Next month, Christ said her department will begin getting the data that lets them check suspected deaths against confirmed ones.

The Ducey administration’s Opioid Action Plan, released earlier this year, aims to reduce fatal opioid overdoses by 25 percent in the next five years.

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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.