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Opioid deaths in Arizona decreased for the first time in a decade in 2022

For the first time in a decade, the number of opioid deaths reported in Arizona dropped in 2022. 

The latest  Opioid Overdoses Surveillance Report from the Arizona Department of Health Services shows 1,927 Arizonans died from opioid use in 2022. That’s more than four times the number of opioid deaths reported in the state a decade earlier. But it is about a 5% drop from the previous year.

The report says Arizona doctors have been prescribing opioids less frequently. Opioid prescriptions in the state decreased by about 23% from 2019 to 2022. 

Meanwhile, pharmacists have been dispensing the overdose reversal medication Naloxone far more often. Since the state health department in 2017 began allowing any Arizona licensed pharmacist to give out Naloxone without a prescription, Arizona has seen an eightfold increase in the amount of the medication dispensed at pharmacies.

Law enforcement and emergency medical services have also been administering more Naloxone in recent years. 

In spite of the small drop in deaths, the health department says opioid overdoses are still a problem requiring urgent action.

"The opioid overdose data serves as a sobering reminder of the challenges faced by Arizona in combating opioid deaths and overdoses," Celia Nabor, assistant director for prevention services at the Arizona Department of Health Services, wrote in a  blog post. "It underscores the need for continued vigilance, targeted interventions, and a united front to protect the well-being of communities."

The report points out the highest opioid mortality rates in Arizona are among males and people between the ages of 35 and 44. Black Arizonans are also disproportionately impacted. Gila County saw the highest per capita rates of opioid overdose deaths and hospitalizations in Arizona in 2022. 

Fentanyl or other synthetic opioids were to blame in more than 97% of the state's opioid overdose deaths in 2022. Heroin overdoses in the state have been steadily falling for several years. 

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 reporting on a variety of issues, including public health and climate change.