New act concerning opioid crisis brings the issue into focus for ASU students

Gov. Ducey signed the Arizona Opioid Epidemic Act, part of which focuses on young people struggling with opioid addictions

On Jan. 26, Governor Doug Ducey signed the Arizona Opioid Epidemic Act, legislation meant to address the opioid epidemic in Arizona, which the governor has called a "public health emergency."

The law reforms several aspects of drug enforcement and treatment in Arizona, such as putting limits on opioid prescriptions, increasing training and access to naloxone and introducing a Good Samaritan law that protects those who report overdoses to the authorities. 

According to the Arizona Department of Health Services, 812 Arizonans died of a suspected opioid overdose between the period of June 2017 and January 2018.  Rep. Pamela Powers Hannley (D-Tucson), a House Health Committee member, said drug addiction has reached epidemic status mainly through the overprescription and misuse of painkillers.

In 2001, the Joint Commission, a non-profit that accredits healthcare programs, began suggesting that doctors ask about patient pain levels when they take vital signs like blood pressure and temperature, though they leave it up to individual hospitals to make the final decision. Powers Hannley said an increased focus on pain levels during medical examinations worsened the overprescribing of opioids.

"So at the same time they were asking people about their pain they had these drugs on the market," she said. "Then they started prescribing more of the opioids."

Powers Hannley said doctors fear receiving a poor rating from patients, which leads them to overprescribe opioids.

"What they've found is that patients are more likely to complain about doctors if they ask for a prescription and don't get it," Powers Hannely said. 

A portion of the Arizona Opioid Epidemic Act addresses young adults who use drugs and battle addiction. According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, nine out of 10 people with substance issues started using by the age of 18.

Cody Holt, a global studies senior and the director of operations for ASU's Students for Sensible Drug Policy, said the bill is a step in the right direction but doesn't go far enough.

"What I was most disappointed about this law is that it only covers ... a five year time span," Holt said. "I think the point of them having a five year time span is that they can get everyone to agree on it however, in my opinion, what it does is effectively promotes the idea of (dealing) with it later."

Holt said Students for Sensible Drug Policy tries to bring awareness to the epidemic and reform modern drug policy from a student perspective. 

"College is a really big time for exploration and self discovery and we think it's important to tell students that these issues are issues that they will face in real life," Holt said. "Whether you chose to engage in substance usage or not." 

Dr. Karen Moses, who oversees ASU's Recovery Rising program, said it can be difficult for college students to juggle their addiction and recovery with school.

Some new treatment centers are trying to help college students continue their education while in recovery so they don't have to choose between recovery and school, she said.

"This past spring of 2017, the data indicates that 3.7 percent of ASU students have a history of addiction," Moses said. "A lot of times what happens when someone has an active addiction, they do need to take time off of school."

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