According to the Arizona Department of Health Services, nearly 2,000 possible opioid overdoses were reported in the state between June 15 and Aug. 17, with 13 percent of these possible overdoses being fatal.
In June, Gov. Doug Ducey declared opioid abuse a statewide public health emergency and increased AZDHS’ capability to track opioid-related incidents. For the first time in the state’s history, data is gathered and presented to the public in real time.
In 2016, 790 Arizonans died from opioid overdoses, an average of more than two people per day. From 2013 to 2016, opioid-related deaths increased 74 percent.
As a recent incident showed, rural communities such as the Verde Valley are not shielded from the effects of opioid abuse: On the evening of Aug. 20, Cottonwood Police Department responded to the 600 block of Main Street for a head-on collision. The investigation revealed that 34-year-old Cottonwood resident Eric Everett Dale Johnson had crossed lanes of traffic and collided head-on with another vehicle.
“Johnson was suspected of opioid overdose due to pinpoint pupils, no pulse and he was turning blue,” Sgt. Monica Kuhlt said, adding that emergency medical personnel treated and revived him.
After being treated at Northern Arizona Healthcare Verde Valley Medical Center, Johnson was arrested and booked into jail on felony charges including aggravated assault, aggravated DUI and criminal damage. Johnson had a passenger in the car with him, whose condition is unknown.
According to CPD, the man was flown to NAH Flagstaff Medical Center for a “higher level” of care. The driver of the vehicle Johnson struck reported injuries due to the airbag deploying.
“This head-on collision is another example of the growing opioid epidemic in our state,” Kuhlt said.
“[This is] another sobering reminder that drug addictions hurt others, and our community is not immune to the insanity,” CPD Chief Steve Gesell said. “Drug trends tend to be cyclical, but the causal factors can morph.
“Aside from our traditional role as law enforcement, representatives of many of our police agencies in Yavapai County are also engaged in collaborative endeavors to enhance prevention and intervention efforts. Most of these come in the form of MATForce subcommittees such as the Overdose Death Review Committee and Verde Valley Steering Committee.”
Responding to opioid overdoses requires quick intervention. Accordingly, many first responder organizations, such as Verde Valley Fire District, outfit responders with kits that include naloxone [also known by its brandname Narcan], an opioid antagonist useful treating acute opioid overdose.
Administered rapidly after the onset of an overdose, the drug has been shown to reduce the rate of death due to overdose. Between June 15 and Aug. 17, 1,339 naloxone doses were “administered outside of the hospital by emergency medical services, law enforcement and others,” according to AZDHS. Another 1,533 naloxone kits were distributed to the public by pharmacies.
According to Camp Verde Marshal’s Office chief administrative assistant Darby Martin, CVMO recently purchased a Narcan kit for every deputy, each of whom received training for its use. Each deputy now carries a kit with him.
“I do believe [opioid abuse] is just as prevalent here as anywhere else,” Martin said. “Obtaining it is just as easy here as down in the Phoenix area. If we didn’t think that was the case, we wouldn’t have gone as quickly to get the Narcan kits. It’s definitely an issue here in our area.”
Since Ducey’s opioid abuse reporting directive in June, CVMO has reported two possible overdoses, according to Martin.