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Arizona Center for Rural Health Receives $2.2M to Reduce Opioid Deaths

In the midst of statewide and national opioid public health emergencies, the University of Arizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health and the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) have partnered on a $2.2 million Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration grant to train first responders to recognize the symptoms of opioid abuse and to administer naloxone, a drug used to counter the effects of opioid overdose and save lives.

The UA Center for Rural Health and the ADHS Bureau of Emergency Medical Services and Trauma System will work in rural Arizona communities to instruct emergency medical services personnel, first responders and family and community members on screening, briefly intervening and referring to treatment.

In June 2017, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey declared a statewide health emergency after ADHS data showed that 790 Arizonans died from opioid overdoses in 2016, more than two people per day, and an increase from 679 opioid-related deaths in 2015. The declaration allowed Arizona to coordinate public health interventions to address the opioid epidemic, such as having ADHS develop and provide training to law enforcement agencies on protocols for administering naloxone. To date, more than 1,000 first responders have been trained to carry and administer naloxone, more than 3,600 naloxone doses have been dispensed and more than 2,500 naloxone doses have been administered to help reverse opioid overdoses, according to ADHS.

The United States has seen an alarming increase in drug overdose deaths in the 12-month period, from 52,898 in 2016 to 60,070 in 2017. More than 60 percent of these drug overdose deaths are related to prescribed opioids and heroin, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The training program funded by this grant has the potential to save hundreds of lives in Arizona,” said UA President, Dr. Robert C. Robbins. “The opioid epidemic is a national public health emergency and we are very proud of the UA Center for Rural Health’s 36-year record for improving the health and wellness of rural and underserved populations in Arizona.”

“The UA Center for Rural Health is honored to partner with the Arizona Department of Health Services, the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board, the UA Center for Population Science and Discovery, the UA College of Medicine – Tucson, the Arizona governor’s office, the state’s rural and critical access hospitals – and others committed to addressing the opioid epidemic in Arizona,” said Dr. Daniel Derksen, director of the Center for Rural Health.

“The $3.1 million SAMHSA First Responders Cooperative Agreement with ADHS, and their $2.2 million interagency services agreement with us, will help build the training, education and treatment infrastructure to reduce the tragic consequences of opioid morbidity and mortality in Arizona,” Dr. Derksen added.

“Having the UA Center for Rural Health as a key partner in this initiative will foster critical links with first responders in the most underserved areas in Arizona,” said Dr. Cara Christ, director of the Arizona Department of Health Services. “In addition, the UA Center for Population Science and Discovery will provide invaluable monitoring and evaluation that will document successes that can be replicated across the country.”

 Dr. Taylor George, section chief of the ADHS Bureau of Emergency Services and Trauma System, will oversee the project. He graduated in December with a doctorate in public health policy and management from the UA Zuckerman College of Public Health.