Mohave County struggles with effects of opioid addiction

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(Source: 3TV/CBS 5) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
(Source: 3TV/CBS 5) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
(Source: 3TV/CBS 5) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)

Kingman, Arizona is cashing in on its connection to old Route 66. Examples of Americana line the streets, and those same streets are often lined with tourists and history buffs. But police officers who patrol this city of 30,000 are seeing something else: the effects of drug addiction.

“We notice that there’s a lot of thefts and property crimes,” said Shawn Wyma, who is a Kingman police officer.

[VIDEO: Behind the story: The opioid crisis' impact on rural Arizona]

Wyma says drug addicts are responsible for a large number of the city’s burglaries and break-ins.

“They need to support a habit,” said Wyma.

He sees the effects of drug abuse on the people with whom he comes into contact on a daily basis.

“Have you been staying clean?” he asked woman after pulling her over for swerving into his lane. He knows her from a previous drug-related call.

[VIDEO: Opioid crisis hits Mohave County hard]

Thirty minutes later, Wyma is at a motel, where the manager is complaining about someone in one of the rooms. The man is acting strangely and the manager suspects an overdose in-the-making.

“He was almost in a catatonic state, where he was incoherent, but awake,” said Wyma. Officers also found bags of cell phones and guns in the man’s room.

“If we just continue what we’re doing, we’re going to have over 1,000 deaths, just from heroin,” said Police Chief Robert DeVries. “That’s not counting what we may experience from a rise in the Hepatitis and HIV rates,” said DeVries.

The Kingman Police Department has been surprisingly progressive, under DeVries’ leadership. It was the first department in the state to equip its officers with Narcan, which is an opioid overdose antidote. So far, its officers have saved five lives by administering the drug.

DeVries says he would also like to see real needle exchange program take off here. He says he views drug addiction as a public safety and public health problem.

[RELATED: Report: Highest opioid overdose deaths in AZ in 10 years]

“Getting the dirty syringes off the streets, out of the parks, in areas where people can be exposed to them,” said DeVries.

The problem is not isolated to this city. Mohave County, which includes Kingman, is dealing with a combination of pill mills and heroin use. According to the Arizona Department of Health Services, just four doctors wrote prescriptions for six million opioids in 2016. The county’s entire population is just 200,000.

“I would call it an epidemic,” said Jasmine Myers, who is a program coordinator for Southwest Behavioral Health in Bullhead City. She treats addicts who are trying to get clean.

Myers says some of the clients she sees are addicted to prescription pain pills. Others switched from pills to heroin, when the prescriptions or the money to pay for the prescriptions ran out. It is a tough climb back to sobriety, she says.

“It’s an every day challenge,” said Myers. “Some people need acute placement. Some people need more outpatient services. More funding in those areas would help us combat the challenge,” she said.

[SPECIAL SECTION: Opioid Crisis in Arizona]

Finding for services is a big part of the problem. While Southwest Behavioral offers inpatient and outpatient services, there is more demand than there are resources to meet those demands.

Chief DeVries says that is the biggest challenge rural communities face when they take on the state’s opioid epidemic.

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