Data from the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) reveals the health outcomes of Arizonans from 2009 to 2019.
Most notably, deaths caused by drug use disorders in the state increased by over 102 percent over ten years. Drug use disorders were ranked 18th among the state’s most common causes of death in 2009. In 2019, they were ranked 10th.
Over the decade, the IMHE also charted the changes of other common causes of death in Arizona. Deaths by cirrhosis, diabetes, colorectal cancer, and lower respiratory infections decreased by 38 percent, 36 percent, 36 percent, and 21.5 percent, respectively, while chronic kidney diseases became more common with a percentage change of 64.5, ranking 6th overall from 9th in 2009. Isometric heart disease still leads the ranking as it did ten years earlier.
In terms of most common causes of death and disabilities (DALYS) from 2009 to 2019, drug use disorders saw an increase of over 70 percent. Drug use as a risk factor of DALYS moved up the ranking from 6th in 2009 to 4th in 2019 with a 65.3 percent increase.
The opioid crisis has been a major contributor to Arizona’s drug-related health complications. More than 3 Arizonans a day have died from opioid overdoses in the last two years, and despite all types of major opioids contributing to the issue, the most commonly used opioid painkiller is fentanyl, a synthetic opioid known for being 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine and just as risky. Port Director Michael Humphries of the Nogales Customs & Border Patrol (CBP) notes, “The size of a few grains of salt of fentanyl…can kill a person very quickly.”
Experts say Arizona’s opioid crisis is fueled by its geographic location. “The proliferation of these pills trafficked into the U.S. by Mexican cartels and the sheer number of fentanyl pills seized in Arizona is alarming,” says Doug Coleman, Special Agent in Charge of the Phoenix Division of the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Todd Vanderah, head of the Department of Pharmacology at the University of Arizona College of Medicine, says that another huge factor that has led to deaths in Arizona over the past few years is COVID-related stress. He states, “Many people have been increasing their intake of alcohol, which is easier to track because of sales, but this leads me to believe that illicit drugs are also being consumed more due to the overall depression that COVID-19 has put upon the world. The loss of social interactions, the loss of jobs, and the loss of loved ones is very devastating and can lead to a ‘who cares’ attitude and substance misuse.”
Measures are underway to alleviate the Arizona drug crisis. A new partnership between researchers at the University of Arizona Health Sciences and the Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences seeks to combat the opioid crisis. “Through research, treatment and education,” says Vanderah, “this partnership will accelerate our ability to discover novel medications, devices and therapies to help those who suffer from opioid use disorder and chronic pain.”