Five county health departments across the state will receive thousands of doses of opioid overdose reversal drugs next year as part of Arizona’s settlement with pharmaceutical giant Teva.
In early December, Democratic Attorney General Kris Mayes ordered Teva Pharmaceutical to ship naloxone in lieu of cash, although Mayes’ office says the state will still receive millions over the next 13 years as part of the settlement.
Providing the life-saving drug is one part of Mayes’ agenda to combat the growing fentanyl crisis as he enters his second year in office. In an interview last week, Mayes said he is also forming an advisory committee to help prioritize how to spend some of the roughly $500 million from opioid settlements headed to Arizona for state use.
Mayes this month extended invitations to legislative leaders and Gov. Katie Hobbs, also a Democrat, to get votes on that commission, he said. Legislators must set aside settlement money in the state budget each year.
“Arizona is the rest of the country’s fentanyl funnel,” Mayes said. “Drug cartels use our state like UPS and bring it across our border and redistribute it to the rest of the country.”
Mayes said he has asked Vice President Kamala Harris and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Director Anne Milgram for more federal resources to end drug trafficking and address the immigration crisis, which Mayes said has pulled staff away from working on drug traffickers.
In the meantime, investigations by Mayes’ office have led to the seizure of more than 16.7 million fentanyl pills this year, the spokesman said. That’s up from 6.5 million in 2022, according to Mayes’ office.
Naloxone coming to Arizona counties
The fentanyl crisis and the shortage of the drug, sometimes known by its brand name Narcan, justified counties receiving the rescue drug instead of cash, Mayes said.
“I plan to distribute them every four months to different organizations and communities,” Mayes said. “This first batch, coming out in June, will go to county health departments that are dangerously low on naloxone.”
The following counties will receive the shipments, which were picked based on need and storage capacity, according to Mayes’ office: 900 units to Yuma County; 3,000 to Pima County; 1,200 to Navajo County; 1,200 for Mohave County and 700 for Gila County. Each unit contains two doses of naloxone, both of which are often necessary to prevent an overdose.
Pima County has seen a dramatic increase in overdoses over the past three years, topping 500 deaths this year, according to Mark Person, behavioral health and substance abuse program director for the Pima County Health Department. Fentanyl is the leading cause of overdoses, Person said.
The province has distributed naloxone through nearly 200 agencies, nonprofits, businesses and community groups since 2019. In the first year, the county distributed 1,500 naloxone units, Person said. This year, they have distributed an average of 1,200 units per month, he said. Twice in the past few years, the province has run out of naloxone.
The incoming shipment acts as a cushion that keeps the county’s supply stable, Person said.
“What we’re doing now is kind of a pay-for-pay scenario,” Person said. “We get our allocation and it does its job, we have it, but it’s gone by the end of the month.”
In Yuma County, health department officials are working with community groups to get naloxone to schools, first responders and others who work with people in crisis.
While we know there is no one-size-fits-all solution to this problem, getting a life-saving drug like naloxone into the hands of those who need it most is a commitment to safety and a critical strategy in preventing future opioid overdoses,” County Representative Diana Gomez. Gomez said the upcoming delivery “will augment our naloxone distribution program capacity and durability by ensuring that cost and availability are not an obstacle.
Arizona and county and municipal governments are expected to receive more than $1 billion in legal settlements related to the opioid crisis of the past few decades, during which painkiller makers and prescribers flooded the market with the addictive drug.
Many of these cases predate Mayes’ election to office, but he has considerable control over how the money is spent according to guidelines set in the spending agreement. Provincial leaders are also planning how to prioritize the hundreds of millions that will make up their equity settlement fund over the next 18 years, but few have detailed plans and some are wary of misdirecting the money, as happened with the tobacco settlements of the 1990s.
In June, Teva reached a final agreement to settle the lawsuits. The agreement includes the delivery of 9.6 million naloxone kits to states and the payment of more than $4 billion. Arizona will also receive more than $85 million in cash over 13 years, according to Mayes’ office.
Reach reporter Stacey Barchenger firstname.lastname@example.org or 480-416-5669.
Plans in the air:Arizona counties receive opioid transfers but still decide how they are used
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