The Opioid Epidemic

How Maricopa County is fighting it

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has called the opioid crisis the worst drug overdose epidemic in our history. The opioid epidemic has taken a huge toll on Maricopa County, with nearly 2,000 opioid-related deaths in our county between 2016–2018 and wide-ranging impact on county services including those related to criminal justice and public health.

According to Maricopa County Public Health, 66% of all drug overdose deaths involved at least one opioid in 2018, and more than 70% of all opioid overdose deaths involved prescription opioids (including fentanyl).

Maricopa County filed a civil lawsuit in December 2018 against more than a dozen opioid manufacturers. The suit alleges that the companies “downplayed the significant risks of addiction and overdose.”

Other actions Maricopa County is taking to fight the opioid epidemic:

Limiting overdose deaths — Maricopa County Correctional Health Services is using naloxone, an opioid antidote, to save lives and put inmates on a path to recovery, and Sheriff Paul Penzone has equipped all patrol deputies and Sergeants with the antidote and invested in training so that they know how to administer it properly. The Arizona Department of Health Services has recognized the Sheriff’s Office for their efforts in combating the opioid epidemic.

Reducing cravings — Maricopa County inmates can receive Vivitrol, a drug known to reduce opioid cravings and dull the high that someone receives from taking the drug. The first injection is given in custody, a few days before release. Outside agencies handle subsequent injections.

Education — The Sheriff appointed former Drug Enforcement Agent Shannon Scheel to lead drug education efforts which include outreach to students with an interactive program developed by the Discovery Channel. The county is also committed to education inside jails, so Correctional Health Services continues to refine substance abuse programs such as MOSAIC, which teach people struggling with addiction the skills to replace their dependency with something positive. The Sheriff’s Office also has education programs in jails like the Choose to Change Reentry Program.

The thing that connects all of this work is Maricopa County’s desire to save lives. That doesn’t just mean preventing deaths, but also helping people recover from the destructive cycle of addiction.

If you’d like more information on the fight against opioid misuse statewide, you can get resources and real-time data here.