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The Prescription Drug Overdose Prevention Program has received funding from the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) to continue operations through Aug. 2019 and develop an overdose fatality review team.

Of the state’s $125,000 grant to the Coconino County Public Health Services District (CCPHSD), $25,000 has been allocated to the prevention program specifically.

Candice Koenker, the program's manager, said the program focuses on public health strategies to prevent local opioid overdose through five strategies: reducing acquisition, promoting safe prescription and disposal, training law enforcement officials, increasing public awareness and improving connections with treatment centers.

“Even beyond grant funding, this is a great opportunity for the Health District because it allows us to collaborate with the community," Dr. Marie Peoples, Deputy County Manager and former Chief Health Officer, said.

The overdose fatality review team will do just that by combining local data relating to substance abuse with the human stories behind the numbers to determine the community’s true needs for prevention services.

Members of the overdose prevention program will work with various counties who have a similar fatality review team, as well as ADHS, in the coming months to establish its roles, participants, frequency of meetings and other day-to-day functions. Koenker hopes to have the first meeting in Coconino County sometime in the spring.

A variety of services are already in place to help prevent and combat prescription drug abuse. Koenker said these resources are necessary for those who might be around individuals who use opioids, as well as people who themselves have a prescription for high dosages of opioids.

Disposal of old medications is the first step to preventing abuse. Medications that are stored in a home are at risk of being stolen, used unwisely or accidentally consumed by children and pets. Disposal by trash, toilet or drain can pollute ground water. The safest way to dispose of old, unused or unwanted medications is through an official drop box, located throughout the region.

For those unable to access a drop box, the program is also offering free Deterra pouches, available at the CCPHSD Health and Community Services building. These sealable black bags allow users to safely neutralize and dispose of prescription medications at home using only warm water and a pouch, which are available in different sizes.

“It’s a really nice, cost-effective way to make sure that people’s homes are safe and to get rid of that medication,” Peoples said.

For instances where prevention is not possible, the county is distributing naloxone – a life-saving medication which will restore respiration to those who have overdosed – for free to individuals and agencies, courtesy of Sonoran Prevention Works.

“We have recently implemented a naloxone distribution program. Anyone can come to the health district and receive a naloxone kit free of charge,” Koenker said. “It’s completely confidential, it’s free of charge. Any community member who’s interested in obtaining a kit for any reason can.”

The kits are available for pickup Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Thursdays from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. The health district is asking that agencies limit themselves to four kits. Recipients of each kit will receive overdose response education and training, including how to administer the naloxone, signs of overdose and other harm reduction techniques.

All Coconino County officers, excepting reservation and NAU officers, currently carry naloxone because of its life-saving potential, Koenker said in last week’s Board of Supervisors meeting.

Although there is some controversy that the use of naloxone could potentially increase substance abuse by reducing the threat of death, Koenker said these claims are unfounded.

“Right now, the research does not back up the statement that people are more apt to [abuse prescription drugs] if they have [naloxone] available,” Koenker said.

Community members with questions about overdose resources, awareness and education are encouraged to attend the Substance Abuse Coalition’s meetings the first Monday of each month at 2 p.m. in the Health and Community Services building.

The CCPHSD Health and Community Services building is located at 2625 N. King St. For more information on substance abuse resources, visit www.coconino.az.gov/health.

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