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  • Pima County seeing sustained increase in Fentanyl deaths

    May 15, 2020 | Read More News
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    Pima County Health Department (PCHD) sent an alert to behavioral health and community providers May 15, notifying them about an increase in fentanyl overdose deaths, asking them to be alert, and providing a list of specific actions they can take to help slow the increase.

    Since the beginning of the year, 32 people in Pima County have lost their lives to fentanyl, surpassing methamphetamine deaths for the first time. Deaths from fentanyl have been increasing since early 2019, and, if this trend continues, PCHD officials project more than 100 deaths for 2020. 

    “We track overdose deaths, and have seen an alarming rise in deaths from fentanyl, with more people in their 20s dying from overdose,” said Mark Person, Health Department Community Mental Health and Addiction Program Manager. “If this trend increases, we tragically may see almost 50 deaths in that age group by the end of the year, which would be an 85% increase.”
    Fentanyl is extremely potent, frequently leading to accidental overdose when taken by itself or with other drugs or alcohol. Fentanyl is often mixed with other narcotics, like heroin, cocaine, or meth, leading to accidental ingestion and sometimes overdose. 

    “There are important parts many of us can play. One of public health’s roles is to make sure the providers in our community, who are doing lifesaving work, have current information that they can use to make the best decisions for those they serve,” said Person. “Even small steps we can all take at home can make a difference in pushing these numbers down.”

    The Health Department suggests:
    • Storing all medications in a locked cabinet to prevent them from being taken or accidentally ingested by another adult or child they’re not intended for. 
    • Properly disposing of expired or unused medication. This can help reduce the risk of prescription drug misuse or overdose, and minimizes the introduction of pollutants into our environment. Safe disposal locations and events can be found at www.pima.gov/disposeamed.
    • People who struggle with substance use disorders or use drugs recreationally should use fentanyl test strips before using any substance. Check with your local health care provider, pharmacy, or health plan for more information about how to obtain test strips in your area. 
    • Those who are or may be close to people at high risk for substance misuse should consider having Naloxone, (also called Narcan) with them or storing this drug at home in case of an overdose emergency. Naloxone can potentially reverse an opioid overdose. The Health Department works with community partners to distribute Narcan to first responders and health providers who frequently encounter high-risk populations. High-risk people, and their friends and family, can obtain naloxone by calling 520-724-7973, talking to their primary care provider, or through most pharmacies.
    • Remembering that mental health and substance use are of particular importance during times of heightened stress and anxiety. Anybody struggling with substance use, difficulty coping with increased stress, or having feelings of hopelessness can call 520-622-6000 or 1-866-495-6795, text 838255, or visit www.pimahelpline.org. If you or someone you know is having thoughts of self-harm or suicide you can also contact the national suicide prevention lifeline at 1-800-273-825. In the event that health and safety are in immediate jeopardy, call 911 immediately. 
    The full version of the alert to providers can viewed at www.pima.gov/health and clicking on “Health Alerts.”