State of Arizona issues call to action in fight against opioid epidemic

Posted at 5:20 PM, Jan 17, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-17 19:20:02-05

The state of Arizona is issuing a call to action, asking all residents to help in the fight against the prescription drug epidemic that has gripped the nation.

"The state is and will commit to reducing the stigma surrounding opioid abuse and providing community resources," said Debbie Moak, Director of the Governor's Office of Youth, Faith, and Family.

She added that this fight would "take a village" and the state needs all hands on deck.

The CDC released alarming numbers last week showing that 91 people are dying every day from prescription drug overdose. Arizona saw more than 600 overdose deaths last year, all from opioids.

As part of an initiative to get the community involved, the state has launched a website  for addicts, family members, and anyone in the community who wants more information about prescription drug abuse.

"The state is sounding the alarm," said Moak.

Thanks to a task force and efforts already taking place in classrooms, Moak said officials have already seen some positive impact in the number of overdose calls in Arizona.

In 2010 Arizona was 4th in the nation for prescription drug overdose deaths. Today, it is 15th. Studies also showed a decline in the use of prescription drugs among 8th, 10th, and 12th-grade students. Life-saving drugs like Naloxone which are now available over the counter without a prescription will also help reduce the number of overdose deaths, according to Moak. Advocates said access to Naloxone had already helped save lives on Phoenix streets.

A task force put together by the governor came up with 104 initiatives to help fight the prescription drug abuse epidemic, including preventing first-time use by youth and getting rid of the stigma surrounding opioid addiction.

Moak cited a pilot project that had started in one 7th grade classroom to help make kids more aware of the problem and the deadly consequences.

Moak said the governor is committed to investing more money to start an education campaign against prescription drug abuse at our schools. The state hoped to make an announcement regarding new funding for this effort sometime in February. 

She encouraged parents not to be afraid to talk to their children about prescription drug abuse, as many children have access right at home in medicine cabinets.

Another program started in the state included placing drug boxes at select locations and pharmacies where you can rid of prescription drugs you don't need anymore, just to get them out of your home.

Former prescription drug addict Aaron Sorenson said he got addicted at the age of 17 when he was prescribed Vicodin after getting his wisdom teeth removed.

For Sorenson, all it took was one pill, and he was hooked.

"I took that first pill and the amount of euphoria I felt, it was just insane," said Sorenson.

From one pill a day to 20, his addiction spiraled out of control. When he ran out of prescribed pills, Sorenson said he walked the streets looking for a dealer and was approached by one within minutes.

"I walked out, looking sick.  Not long after that, I was approached by a man saying hey, you looking to get well?"

He described himself as a "functional" drug addict who held on to his corporate job at a bank for a while.

"Every single dollar I made went to feed that addiction."

Sorenson said he was spending about $300 a day to get his pills. He eventually lost his job, his vehicle, his home, and many relationships.

The expensive habit turned him from corporate guy to crook.

"I started stealing things, I would pawn everything I had," said Sorenson.

He ended up in jail several times, one of the charges against him was trafficking in stolen property. Sorenson described his desperation for drugs as gasping for air underwater.

"You want air so bad; you want to come up for air. That's what it felt like when I didn't have drugs."

At his lowest, Sorenson said he solicited a woman he was dating for sex to someone else so that they could both feed their addictions.

He was finally able to turn his life around at the recovery center Crossroads in Arcadia. Sorenson said the support system around him was crucial to his healing and recovery.

"There's a lot of shame, remorse, regret. I was afraid to talk about it with my family. Afraid of being judged. Telling someone that didn't understand was a big fear of mine," said Sorenson.

He admitted the road to recovery was not easy, but more than two years without prescription drugs now, he has dedicated his life to letting other addicts know, it is possible.

"You have to be honest, open, and willing.  Let them know you want help. You can recover.  You just have to have the willpower to fight through it," said Sorenson.