Cure May Be Worse Than The Problem Itself In AZ County As Fentanyl Deaths Increase

Pills laced with fentanyl and heroin. [Photo courtesy of U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration]

As the Trump administration urges the states that are showing steady declines in COVID-19-related deaths, hospitalizations, and positive test results to “open up,” some counties like Pima are resisting.

TUCSON – In March, as the nation began suffering from the economic impact of the shutdown ordered in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, President Donald Trump tweeted “the cure cannot be worse than the problem itself.” In at least one county in Arizona, the side-effects of the cure can be seen in rising drug-related deaths.

On May 15, the Pima County Health Department sent an alert to behavioral health and community providers notifying them about an increase in fentanyl overdose deaths. The alert called on providers to help slow the increase and included a list of specific actions they could take.

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According to the Pima County Health Department (PCHD), “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 in a press release. “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.”

“While all the focus has been on COVID-19 patients,” said Pima County Supervisor Ally Miller, “people with other serious health conditions have been unable to get the health care they needed. It is deeply disturbing how many went without proper care. These tragic deaths are yet another example of people living in utter despair and unable to get the physical and emotional care they so desperately needed.”

As the Trump administration urges the states that are showing steady declines in COVID-19-related deaths, hospitalizations, and positive test results to “open up,” some counties like Pima are resisting.

Despite receiving positive news from Pima County health officials, the Miller’s colleagues on the Board of Supervisors in a 3-2 vote, approved what has been described as “draconian” and “onerous” regulations on restaurants and attractions this week. The move against the hospitality industry ensured that the very age group affected by fentanyl abuse, people in their 20s, would not soon be returning to work.

Suicide is also on the increase. PCHD says there has been a steady average of one suicide per day since the spike began in early March.

In March, Person sent out a letter advising care providers that were a total of 22 suicides in the first 28 days of March. Nine suicides occurred between March 15 and March 21.

PCHD alerted officials and care providers that there 15 suicides in two weeks. Now we’re learning two weeks after that, there were 13 more.

Most of the suicides are occurring in the 40-59 year old age range. While nearly 80 percent had a confirmed mental illness or underlying medical condition, financial stress, isolation, and reduced access to resources may have played a role.

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