East Valley leaders discussing opioid epidemic in the Grand Canyon State

TEMPE, AZ - A coalition in Tempe is considering ways to curb the worsening opioid epidemic happening across the Valley.

On Wednesday, government agencies, educational institutions and nonprofit organizations met at the Graduate Hotel in Tempe to discuss the complex opioid epidemic not only playing out across the U.S., but also in the Grand Canyon State.

Joel Navarro, a Tempe city councilman and firefighter, helped form the joint task force.

"It's a cost," Navarro said. "It's lives, people's lives that are at stake."

According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than half a million Americans died of opioid use from 2000 to 2015. In Maricopa County, pharmaceutical opiates caused more death than heroin, a Tempe spokesperson said.

"I was seeing just gross amounts of prescription pills that individuals had in their possession," Navarro said. "Sixty to 90 pills in a bottle — they had two or three of these bottles. It's crazy how it was over-prescribing of medication; that's really having an affect on our community."

Phoenix and Mesa are seeing the worst numbers for opioid abuse, which poses a large problem for Tempe since it’s located in the middle of both cities, a Tempe spokesperson said.

"They're going to the hospital and trying to get a three-day, seven-day fix," Navarro said. "Doing the rotation so we are seeing an uptick in that."

Several people were on-hand at the seminar to discuss prescription opioid and heroin abuse, including the East Valley Regional Opioid Action Planning Committee, representatives of the City and Tempe and Chandler Coalition on Youth Substance Abuse.

"It's anyone; anyone," Navarro said. "I've seen mothers and kids have this addiction."

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