Nation’s opioid addiction crisis touches Havasu

May 13, 2019

More than two people die every day from opioid overdoses in Arizona.

If that statistic from the Arizona Department of Health Services sounds like two people too many, the story in Mohave County is equally as bleak.

Brooke Collins of the Mohave County Health Department said that the county has seen 789 confirmed opioid overdoses from June 2017 to the beginning of May 2019. Collins, an education specialist with the county’s Prescription Drug Overdose Prevention program, didn’t have specific statistics for Lake Havasu City.

Terrie Haas of the Lake Havasu City Fire Department said local first responders answered 18 calls for suspected opioid overdoses in 2018. Thus far in 2019, there have been eight calls.

Collins provided the opioid overdose death rate for Mohave County. The statistic is for 2016, the most recent year available. She said it takes considerable time to collect data for the involved compilation process.

“In 2016, the death rate in Mohave County was 29.9 opioid overdose deaths for every 100,000 people in the county,” Collins said. Mohave County’s population is 204,691, making 2016’s death rate almost 60 people. “The death rate in that time per 100,000 people for Arizona was 20.3. For the United States, it was 19.8. As you can see, at 29.9, Mohave County was higher by a substantial amount.”

Prescription opioids and illegal opioids such as heroin or fentanyl are highly addictive and can be deadly. Most recently, five inmates at the Mohave County Jail in Kingman overdosed on synthetic opioids. They were revived when given Narcan, according to the Mohave County Sheriff’s Office. Narcan is a brand name for naloxone. The medication is used to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.

From June 15, 2017 to May 3, 2019, the state’s Department of Health Services said that 46,074 naloxone doses were dispensed and 13,077 were administered in Arizona.

Naloxone is so effective that Emily Vona strongly urges her opioid-addicted patients to keep it on hand as they go through treatment. Vona, a nurse practitioner, recently opened Arizona Recovery Center in Havasu and offers a medication-assisted solution for those addicted to opioids or alcohol.

“With treatment, a patient has less tolerance to opioids. If they relapse and begin using again, they may go back to using the regular dose of opioids they took before starting treatment. It’s too much. Even half of their ‘regular’ dose is deadly and can kill them,” she said. “That’s why they need to keep Narcan on hand – to reverse the effects of the overdose.”

As for alcohol addiction, it can be difficult to assess how much of Havasu’s population is suffering. But there is one tell-tale number.

Sgt. Tom Gray of the Lake Havasu City Police Department provided some statistics.

“In 2018, we had a total of 307 DUI arrests,” he said. “We have had 92 DUI arrests in the first three months of 2019.”

Pam Ashley can be reached at 928-453-4237, ext. 230 or pashley@havasunews.com.