The Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System reported there were over 700 new cases of the opioid-overdose-causing opioid buprenorphine in Maricopa County between January and May 2019, a new state record.
On average the number of new cases per month in Maricopa County increased from 74 in 2018 to 80 in 2019, according to a report by the Arizona Law Enforcement Analysis Project.
Buprenorphine is an opioid substitute therapy that helps patients with severe opioid use disorder detox, reduce their craving for opioids and eliminate relapses when they do use opioids.
It’s a popular medication among treating opioid abuse because it’s a highly effective, non-addictive and costs less than standard treatments like methadone or a chronic pain medication.
But buprenorphine has been challenged by an alarming increase in the number of drug overdoses over the past year, from 1,422 overdose deaths in 2017 to 1,514 in 2018.
The average age of the people identified with a buprenorphine overdose in Maricopa County from January to May was 41.7, according to the AHCCCS report.
“We know the increased use of buprenorphine for opioid abuse is correlated with increasing opioid use,” said Scott Waggoner, director of planning for the Maricopa County Department of Health Services. “More than 30,000 AZ residents have successfully completed their treatments with buprenorphine, which is driving the dramatic increase in prevalence of opioid-related disease across the state.”
The AHCCCS report goes on to say an AHCCCS conference panel reviewed 90 percent of the current case load with safety valves and concluded that calls to emergency medical services related to misuse of buprenorphine should be significantly reduced.
But, last month, the Arizona Legislature enacted a bill that makes even fewer safeguards to protect people with opioid addiction from unintended complications, especially accidental harm.
The so-called “Valley v. Southwestern pilot program” requires a local treatment provider to report every patient’s emergency treatment before $500,000 in annual state funding for the drug’s purchase and distribution can be reallocated.
The program effectively makes it nearly impossible for a provider to prepare the type of records that would be necessary to make a professional request for state funds.
“The new governor and Legislature are putting the state’s most vulnerable in harm’s way without any thought,” said Shay Hodge, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Arizona Center for Law, Security and Society. “Our opioid epidemic continues to grow and while we’re fighting our addiction battle with insurance waivers, more and more Arizona residents are falling through the cracks.”