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Heroin deaths on the rise in Arizona

(AP Photo/Belleville News-Democrat, Tim Vizer)

PHOENIX -- Some states, including Arizona, are reporting a rise in heroin use as many addicts shift from more costly and harder-to-get prescription opiates to this cheaper alternative. A look at what's happening in Arizona:

THE PROBLEM:

Arizona has seen the number of heroin overdose deaths rise by more than 90 percent in the past decade. The deaths coincided with a rise in abuse of prescription opioids as well, according to Sheila Sjolander, assistant director at the Arizona Health Services Department. Substance abuse in general is one of the department's priorities.

``We consider it a winnable battle,'' Sjolander said. ``In our perspective, one of the bigger issues we've been working on very strategically is prescription drug overdose deaths.''

Deaths from prescription drugs far outnumber heroin deaths, she said. But the department is aware that heroin deaths nationally have been on the rise as prescription opioids become more difficult to obtain.

``We also understand that prescription drugs are often a gateway to heroin -- and heroin is cheaper,'' she said.

THE NUMBERS:

Heroin-related deaths rose from 65 in 2003 to 126 in 2013, according to death certificate data collected by the Health Services Department. A large number of the deaths also involved other drugs.

SOLUTIONS:

Arizona is focused on increasing awareness of prescription painkiller use, primarily through the medical community, by developing better guidelines for prescribing the drugs. State health officials are also urging providers to use the state's prescription drug monitoring program to identify doctor-shopping patients.

At the community level, drop-boxes for people to dispose of unwanted medication are being installed.

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