Data shows drug abuse falling in Verde Valley, but caution needed

COTTONWOOD -- A recent MATForce steering committee meeting 'drilled down' into the use and abuse numbers for illegal drugs and especially prescription medications in Yavapai County and here in Cottonwood.

Shana Malone, the senior research analyst for the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission presented a dizzying collection of data that included opioid addiction in the Verde Valley.  She is a doctoral candidate who has been analyzing the data for two years.

Malone works with numbers collected around the state, including the Arizona Youth Survey, a product of the Arizona Criminal Justice commission, tracking students behaviors in eighth, 10th and 12th grades. Some data comes from the prescription monitoring program, established by the state. Some of the numbers come from Emergency Room tracking and other sources.

MATForce has been working to encourage wider use of the prescription monitoring program locally, so that doctors and pharmacists know whether there is overlap or multiple usage of drugs among their patients. The computer-based program is only available to registered doctors and pharmacists and the Arizona Pharmacy Board. Some corporate pharmacies have prohibited use of the program. Some doctors are now using it thanks to the MATForce urging.

Malone applauded the work of MATForce is reducing the abuse of illegal and prescription drugs in Yavapai County.

"Cottonwood is doing pretty well. You are hitting the mark ... doing well," Malone applauded the work of MATForce. "The issue," she cautioned, "will be 'sustainability.' What are the things in the environment that could buffer the problem?"

She presented the Arizona Youth Drug Severity Index, which shows the abuse of drugs from tobacco to heroin and may lead to the likelihood of addiction.

During the past two years in Yavapai County, there are "a few more users, not so much more frequency and less harmful substances."

The 'drivers' are alcohol, tobacco and marijuana use. For Yavapai County, tobacco use is going up and the use of ecstasy is going up as well, especially among women.

"Girls are more prone to use cocaine, stimulants, inhalants, ecstasy, prescription stimulants and prescription sedatives." Said Malone where as boys use more powerful drugs.

She said that the numbers are especially high among 10th graders. The data was collected in 2010. Yavapai County Health Educator Dee Zenk noted that eighth graders had especially high numbers two years ago.

The survey is based on zip code and that students are not part of the survey if they drop out, said Malone.

In terms of drug use, the rate of abuse is going up, the percentage of drug dependency is increasing the proportion of opiod dependency in Yavapai County is the highest in the state as tracked in the Emergency Rooms. Opiods, as defined by the state tracking include hydrocodone, oxycodone, but also morphine and heroin.

The chart of communities shows that Cottonwood ranks fourth among Yavapai county zip codes. Jerome shows the highest rate, but Malone discarded that ranking, saying that one or two kids could push that percentage since the number of children is small in Jerome compared with other communities. "Beware of small numbers," she warned. Prescott Valley and Chino Valley are the places to watch, she suggested.

The top 20 drugs (found by emergency rooms) include pain relievers. "Forty percent are vicodone and hydrocodone and 50% are pain relievers as a group.

Malone warned that the long term problem with prescription pain reliever abuse is that it can be an entry drugs to something more sinister. "When they are paying $25 per pill for 'oxy' or 'hydro-10,' they find that they can not afford a $500 habit and switch to a $15 dose of heroin."

"Those that have the highest use of prescription pain relievers are found to have the highest use of heroin."

"You are a test bed, because, what you are doing is working." Malone said of the MATForce alliance.

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