Report: Highest opioid overdose deaths in AZ in 10 years

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Last year, 790 Arizonans died from opioid overdoses. (Source: CNN) Last year, 790 Arizonans died from opioid overdoses. (Source: CNN)
Marcus Weisbly had to get help for his opioid abuse. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Marcus Weisbly had to get help for his opioid abuse. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
Weisbly got help at Crossroads. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Weisbly got help at Crossroads. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
Prescription opioids caused 482 deaths, compared to 308 for heroin in 2016. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Prescription opioids caused 482 deaths, compared to 308 for heroin in 2016. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5/AP) -

A new report shows a huge increase in opioid overdose deaths in Arizona.

According to the Arizona Department of Health Services, the data on opioid overdoses for 2016 shows the highest number of deaths in 10 years. Last year, 790 Arizonans died from opioid overdoses, which is a 16 percent increase from 2015 and a 74 percent increase during the last four years.

Prescription opioids caused 482 deaths, compared to 308 for heroin.

Arizona Department of Health Services director Cara Christ called the increase alarming and said it shows the impact drug overdoses are having on the state.

"We know most people using opioids for pain do not intend to become hooked or understand the potential for death," Christ said in a statement.

The increase occurred even as state officials made it a top priority to combat the opioid epidemic. Gov. Doug Ducey put a limit on prescription painkiller prescriptions for people on Medicaid, and Phoenix implemented a program that lets addicts turn in their drugs to a local police precinct and get treatment.

Marcus Weisbly nearly became a statistic. He was 13 years old when he hurt his hand and was prescribed painkillers.

"Continued taking painkillers to the point where they were no longer readily available and was offered heroin and that ship was sailed after that," he said.

Weisbly got help at Crossroads, a substance abuse treatment center.

"The hardship that I've put myself and my family and my loved ones and everybody around me through, the wreckage I've caused, it isn't something I take pride in," he said.

Weisbly said he also lost a person very dear to him due to an overdose.

"Going through treatment and treating this as an illness instead of locking someone else and sending them to a criminal breeding ground doesn't do anything for an addict or alcoholic," he said.

He said staying sober takes hard work every day and what made a difference for him was a network of support with like-minded people, providing strength in numbers. It's a strategy he uses as he helps others overcome their addictions.

"The reason I work at this facility is to help carry on that message of hope and recovery and to make sure nobody feels like they have to go through this alone, it's impossible," Weisbly said. 

Other key findings from the report:

  • An average of two Arizonans die each day from an opioid overdose. 
  • Opioid overdoses and deaths are steadily increasing each year with 2016 showing the highest number of deaths.
  • Heroin deaths have tripled since 2012.
  • In the past decade, there were 5,932 people who died from opioid-induced causes.
  • Arizona opioid death rates start to rise in the late teens and peak at age 45-54.
  • The opioid death rate drops significantly above the age of 65.
  • Opioid-related hospital encounter rates have increased by 300 percent over the past decade. 

A complete copy of the 2016 Arizona Opioid Report may be found online at http://azhealth.gov/opioid

The Associated Press Contributed to this report.

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