Scottsdale public safety officials continue fight against opioid epidemic

In an update to Scottsdale City Council on the municipality’s response to the opioid crisis, local officials say they are focusing their efforts on educating the general public on addiction awareness.

Overall, emergency and community officials believe the problem stems from an over-prescription of medication.

“We’re seeing this incremental percentage increase year over year, Mr. Mayor, we do believe that it is because of an over-prescribing of narcotics and opioids,” Scottsdale Fire Department Chief Tom Shannon said in a Jan. 8 presentation to city council.

The discussion was a part of Scottsdale City Council’s response to the opioid crisis, where Chief Shannon, Scottsdale Police Department Chief Alan Rodbell and Community Services Director Bill Murphy presented on their local efforts.

On June 5, 2017, Gov. Doug Ducey issued a declaration of emergency, coined the “opioid overdose epidemic.”

Fire Chief Tom Shannon

Opioids are powerful painkillers that can be highly addictive, the Arizona Department of Health Services states.

An opioid — pills with names including oxycontin, hydrocodone, percocet and tramadol are apart of the opiate and opioid family — is an opium-like compound that binds to one or more of the three opioid receptors of the body meant to alleviate pain.

In 2016, 790 Arizonans died from opioid overdoses.

Over the summer state law was revised to allow peace officers to administer and carry Narcan, also known as naloxone, a nasal spray that can reverse opioid overdoses.

Of Scottsdale police personnel, 316 have completed the Arizona Peace Officer Standards Training and are authorized to use Narcan, Chief Rodbell noted. Chief Shannon says the fire department and emergency responders have been using Narcan for decades.

Overall, city officials believe education will be the sole deterrent in Scottsdale.

“Majority of our opioid overdoses are in prescribed medications,” Chief Shannon said. “Quite honestly we see them in some long term or assisted care facilities where patients are over prescribed. So this is a very complex issue.”

Chief Shannon said about half of their emergency calls related to opioids resulted in death.

Police Chief Alan Rodbell.

“I do agree that the focus should be on prevention, education, at this point there’s no ask coming from the fire department in terms of additional resources,” he said. “We’re happy to partner with anyone on the prevention side.”

Mr. Murphy explained the community and human services department is focusing on education. Some examples he provided are an intergovernmental agreement with the Scottsdale Unified School District that ultimately provides training for students.

“We strive very hard with counselors we have in you and family services to have referrals for adolescences treatment programs, educational classes for youth and adults on dangers of substance abuse and strong components of opioid and heroin addiction,” Mr. Murphy said. “We have a survey from 2016 that said results demonstrated in Scottsdale that opioid for teens was high.”

In the senior services realm, Mr. Murphy points to opioid overdose as the second highest cause of death for individuals over the age of 55.

The city works closely with Maricopa County’s Area Agency on Aging to combat senior addictions and promote wellness.

Chief Shannon gave the city council his commitment that his No. 1 strategic initiative for this year is to work with the local management groups for long-term and assisted living facilities.

Councilman David Smith stated his desire to target the problem before it results in a 9-1-1 call or death.

“If we can capture the problem, find the root problem, identify the abuse — I think we have a chance of avoiding the manifestation of 9-1-1 calls or death,” he said. “Any way you can integrate yourself into the root of the efforts. I applaud what you’re doing, but we’re going to have to dig deeper.”

If current trends continue the number of annual opioid deaths in Arizona is expected to exceed 1,000 by 2019, of which nearly 50 percent will be due to heroin, the ADHS states.

In an opioid report dated June 15, 2017 to Jan. 11, 2018, highlights:

  • 455 Arizona babies born with possible drug-related withdrawal symptoms;
  • 3,429 naloxone doses administered outside of the hospital by emergency medical services, law enforcement and others;
  • 6,855 naloxone kits distributed to the public by pharmacies;
  • 5,202 possible opioid overdoes reported;
  • 27 percent of fatal overdoses involved prescription opioids and no other drugs;
  • Number of possible opioid overdoses reported weekly has ranged from 103 to 270.

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