Arizona's Young Adults Dying From Drug Overdoses In Record Numbers

In the last decade, the rate of Arizona teens and young adults who have died from drug overdoses has more than doubled.

The statistic comes from a new study by the Trust for America’s Health, which looked at the fatal drug overdose rates among people ages 12-25 throughout the country.

To put it simply, the findings were not pretty.

Arizona is one of multiple states that saw its rate of fatal overdoses rise substantially — before 2001, no states had a rate exceeding 6.1 per 100,000 people, but now Arizona is one of 33 that exceeds that figure.

In fact, when compared to other states, Arizona is tied with Colorado for having the eighth-highest rate of fatal overdoses in the country – 10.2 per 100,000 people, verses 7.3 per 100,000 nationally.

Also paralleling a national trend, young Arizonan men are much more likely to die from an overdose than women: 14.9 per 100,000 verses 5.2 per 100,000. (Nationally, the rate was 10.4 men verses 4.1 women per 100,000.)

“The increase in youth drug overdose deaths is largely tied to increases in prescription drug misuse and the related doubling in heroin use by 18- to 25-year-olds in the past 10 years,” the authors of the study write, adding that “45 percent of people who use heroin are also addicted to prescription painkillers.”

According to Dr. Jeffrey Levi, Trust for America’s Health’s executive director, the study's findings are critical because “more than 90 percent of adults who develop a substance use disorder began using before they were 18.”

Any hope of reducing substance-abuse rates and overdose deaths “will require a reboot in our approach,” he says, “starting with a greater emphasis on preventing use before it starts, intervening and providing support earlier, and viewing treatment and recovery as a long-term commitment."

The most recent data from the American Society of Addiction Medicine, which calls opioid addiction and abuse “an epidemic” in the United States, shows some alarming statistics:
  • 1.9 million Americans live with prescription opioid abuse or dependence.
  • 517,000 Americans live with heroin addiction.
  • Over 100 Americans died from overdose deaths each day in 2013.
  • 46 Americans die each day from prescription opioid overdoses; two deaths an hour, 17,000 annually.
  • While illicit opioid heroin poisonings increased by 12.4 percent from 1999 to 2002, the number of prescription opioid analgesic poisonings in the United States increased by 91.2 percent during that same time period.
  • Drug overdose was the leading cause of injury death in 2013, greater than car accidents and homicide.
  • About 8,200 Americans die annually from heroin overdose.
  • About 75 percent of opioid addiction disease patients switch to heroin as a cheaper opioid source
  • In 2012, 259 million opioid pain-medication prescriptions were written, enough for every adult in America to have a bottle of pills.
“The consequences of this abuse have been devastating and are on the rise,” says Dr. Nora D. Volkow of The National Institute on Drug Abuse.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention blames the heightened death toll from opioid overdoses on two main things: the rise in opioid prescriptions and the cheap and abundant heroin that’s flooded into the country in recent years. 
In addition to looking at youth-overdose rates, the Trust for America’s Health study also scored states based on “10 key indicators of leading evidence-based policies and programs that can improve the well-being of children and youth and have been connected with preventing and reducing substance— alcohol, tobacco or other drugs—misuse.”

Arizona got 4 out of 10….not good.

Here's how other states scored:

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Miriam is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Miriam Wasser