HOLBROOK — Navajo County hopes to deploy a new, high-tech weapon against the dismaying toll of drug overdose deaths.

The Board of Supervisors this week signed on for an innovative new mapping program that in near-real-time will show police and health workers where drug overdoses and deaths are occurring — on a block by block basis.

Navajo County’s opiate drug overdose death rate is about 30% above the national average — mostly reflecting the county’s high poverty rate.

The Overdose Detection Mapping Application Program (ODMAP) will provide law enforcement and health officials dots on a map showing where people have overdosed, died or received Naloxone to reverse the effects of an overdose. Many paramedics and even sheriff’s deputies now carry Naloxone, which can quickly reverse the effects of an opiate overdose on breathing. The map won’t identify the people or provide an address — but it can help public safety and health officials identify problem neighborhoods.

The system “highlights five intersecting initiatives focused on substance abuse prevention, treatment and recovery as well as reducing the availability and use of illicit drugs” with real-time information, said Rhonda Krouse, with the public health services district.

Randy Moffitt, a drug intelligence officer who has already set up the national program in Yavapai County, made the presentation to the board on the advantages of the program intended to counter the national epidemic of opiate overdose deaths.

Between 2000 and 2019, drug overdose deaths annually from opiates like heroin, painkillers and fentanyl in the US have increased from about 10,000 to 50,000, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

The epidemic started nearly a decade ago with a big increase in prescriptions for painkillers. As doctors sought to cut back on painkiller prescriptions, many people who’d gotten hooked on the prescribed opiates shifted to heroin and then the far more potent synthetic opiates like fentanyl. The increase has been especially pronounced among men living in rural areas.

Opiates account for 50,000 of the nation’s 70,000 annual deaths from all kinds of drug overdoses. Many of the deaths involve a mix of drugs, including a combination of meth, opiates and antidepressants. Increasingly, even street heroin is laced with much more potent synthetic opioids like fentanyl. Deaths connected to fentanyl rose 1,100% between 2011 and 2017, with many people who died not even realizing they were taking the far more potent synthetic.

Drug overdose deaths rose even faster during the pandemic, rising to 93,000 nationally in 2020 — a 30% increase.

The overdose mapping project is intended to help public health agencies focus on areas where the problem’s getting worse through various interventions. The system can also help law enforcement focus its resources on problem neighborhoods.

“We have a serious fentanyl crisis not only in Arizona, but in Navajo County,” said Moffitt, who has so far set up the system in 22 different agencies.

In the year Yavapai County has used the system, it has tracked 178 overdoses, 53 overdose-related deaths and 92 uses of Nalaxone to reverse in overdose.

“There are programs that can give you similar information, but it’s old and it’s dated. Here, you just click on a box and it is very, very detailed,” said Moffitt.

He stressed that the system will not violate medical confidentiality laws, since it doesn’t include personal, identifying information on the cases.

He noted that he’ll also be contacting cities like Show Low and Pinetop to offer the same system. The system could also be set up on the White Mountain Apache, Navajo and Hopi Reservations through the tribal governments.

Peter Aleshire covers county government and other topics for the Independent. He is the former editor of the Payson Roundup. Reach him at paleshire@payson.com

(2) comments

Justsayin141

How about law enforcement getting off their backs for a change?. Let's make it so there is something to stay sober for. Some are not as strong as others, maybe we should help them and not continue to kick them when they are down.

Justsayin141

Let's make a test kit available so users can test for the presence of this killer drug. Let's help them for real for a change and show them someone cares.

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