by Cole Lauterbach


New data released from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show Arizonans turned to fatal doses of painkillers and other drugs amid the COVID-19 pandemic at a much higher rate than in other years.

Overdose deaths in Arizona increased 33% to 2,743 from February 2020 to April 2021. Overdoses across the country increased 34% over the same time period. The change is a sharp uptick from years prior. From January 2015 to January 2020, the overdose death rate increased by 18%.

According to CDC data, synthetic opioids such as Fentanyl accounted for nearly two-thirds of overdose deaths. Fentanyl is multiple times more potent than typical painkillers such as Oxycontin. The powerful opioid has become a popular drug to manufacture for the black market to smuggle across the southern border into California and Arizona, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency.

According to a January study by the National Institutes of Health, isolation may have had mixed effects on drug users.

“Prolonged periods of isolation and solitude are acknowledged within much addiction literature as negatively impacting the experiences of those in recovery, while also causing harm to active users – many of whom depend on social contact for the purchasing and taking of substances, as well as myriad forms of support,” the study said.

The increase in opioid abuse has led to a need for anti-overdose medications such as naloxone.

Gov. Doug Ducey signed legislation in May to remove fentanyl testing products from the list of illegal drug paraphernalia. Ducey said the change allows people who use opioids to test products that have been laced with fentanyl.

“Drug use claims far too many lives each year,” Ducey said in a news release. “We want everyone who is using drugs to seek professional treatment. But until someone is ready to get help, we need to make sure they have the tools necessary to prevent a lethal overdose.”

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Cole Lauterbach is a regional editor for The Center Square covering Arizona, California, Oregon, and Washington. For more than a decade, Cole has produced award-winning content on both radio and television.