Dangerous Trend in Opioid Overdoses

Dangerous Trend in Opioid Overdoses 1June

2016 report shows opioid death rate as the highest in ten years

The Arizona Department of Health Services today released its latest data on opioid overdoses in Arizona showing the highest number of deaths in ten years. In 2016, 790 Arizonans died from opioid overdoses. The trend shows a startling increase of 74 percent over the past four years.



“Opioids are powerful painkillers that are highly addictive,” said Dr. Cara Christ, director of the Arizona Department of Health Services. “We know most people using opioids for pain do not intend to become hooked or understand the potential for death.”

The 2016 opioid report shows an average of more than two Arizonans die each day as the result of an opioid overdose. Over half of the 1,497 drug overdose deaths last year were due to opioids as the primary cause of death. Opioids include heroin as well as prescription medication. The number of heroin deaths alone has tripled since 2012.

“This data provides detail on the effects opioids are having on our community,” said Dr. Christ. “This significant increase in deaths is alarming and our response will require everyone in our community working together including doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals, first responders, and community members.

For the 2016 Arizona Opioid Report, ADHS linked and analyzed vital records data, hospital discharge data, Arizona State Trauma Registry data, and the EMS reporting system. Opioid death trends in demographic groups were compared from 2006-2016. Historical patterns of encounters at hospitals and with trauma care systems for individuals who died from opioid overdoses were analyzed. The 2016 deaths were geocoded to identify the location.

Key findings from the report include:

  • An average of two Arizonans die each day from an opioid overdose.
  • Opioid overdoses and deaths are steadily increasing each year with 2016 showing the highest number of deaths.
  • In 2016, 790 Arizonans died from an opioid overdose.
  • Heroin deaths have tripled since 2012.
  • In the past decade, there were 5,932 people who died from opioid-induced causes.
  • Arizona opioid death rates start to rise in the late teens and peak at age 45-54.
  • The opioid death rate drops significantly above the age of 65.
  • There is a significant impact on the healthcare system. Opioid-related hospital encounter rates have increased by 300 percent over the past decade.
  • Arizonans are requiring more doses of naloxone to reduce opioid overdose deaths.
  • While the majority of deaths occur in metropolitan areas, rural areas have the greatest challenge in responding to opioid overdoses.

“This data shows the opioid epidemic is a significant public health issue,” said Dr. Christ. “State agencies are working with stakeholders to turn the tide by preventing prescription opioid drug abuse through appropriate prescribing practices, expanding access to treatment, especially medication assisted treatment, and reversing overdoses through naloxone.”

Everyone plays a role in combatting the opioid epidemic:

  • Help us educate family, friends, and others at risk of overdosing about the importance of naloxone and the critical steps to take if overdose happens.
  • Talk with your children and convince them to steer clear of drugs and alcohol by staying active with healthy alternatives to drug use.
  • If you are pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant, talk with your doctor about the medications you take.
  • If you suffer from chronic pain, talk with your doctor about non-opioid treatment options for pain management.
  • If you have a loved one who is misusing or abusing opioids, seek help, and talk with your doctor or pharmacist about prescribing the overdose reversal drug naloxone. You could very well save that loved one’s life.

A complete copy of the 2016 Arizona Opioid Report may be found online at http://azhealth.gov/opioid. Information and help are available for substance abuse problems at http://substanceabuse.az.gov.

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