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Opioid deaths continue to increase in Arizona

Arizona saw a record number of opioid deaths last year, according to the latest  opioid surveillance report from the Arizona Department of Health Services. 

More than 2,000 Arizonans died of opioid overdoses in 2021 — more than double the number of deaths the state reported just five years earlier. 

Non-fatal opioid overdoses remain frequent as well. The department reports at least nine Arizonans experience a non-fatal overdose per day, and the state saw more than 52,000 hospital visits related to opioid use in 2021. The health department reports those visits cost Arizonans $2.2 billion.

State health officials report the primary causes of opioid overdoses have changed in recent years. Heroin deaths have actually decreased by nearly 70% since 2018 in Arizona. And the number of opioids being prescribed by doctors in the state is steadily declining. But overdoses from fentanyl are on the rise.

"The challenge of overdose deaths has increasingly shifted from overprescribing to illicitly manufactured fentanyl pills," Sheila Sjolander, assistant director of the Arizona Department of Health Services,  wrote in a recent  blog post. "Fentanyl is the most commonly identified substance in verified opioid overdoses. Just one counterfeit pill can contain a lethal dose."

The health department offers  opioid services through a referral line that can be reached at 888-688-4222. 

Katherine Davis-Young is a senior field correspondent. She has produced work for NPR, New England Public Radio, Southern California Public Radio, PRI's The World, Washington Post, Reuters and more.She has a master’s degree in radio journalism from the USC Annenberg School of Journalism.She lives in central Phoenix with her husband, two daughters, and ill-behaved cat and dog. Her side-passions include photography, crosswords and hot sauce.