Heroin overdose deaths continue to rise in Pima County

Heroin overdose deaths continue to rise in Pima County

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - There were a record number of overdose deaths in Pima County in 2015, according to the Pima County Medical Examiner's Office.

In 2014, there were 241 overdose deaths in Pima County, 71 attributed to heroin use. In 2015, 73 people died due to overdose from heroin.

Dr. Gregory Hess, Pima County's chief medical examiner, said heroin overdose deaths could be under reported because of the fact that heroin quickly metabolizes into morphine.

"So it's not uncommon we will find morphine in the blood of someone that has consumed heroin. So sometimes it's hard for us to tell if somebody abused heroin or if they have used morphine," Dr. Hess said.

Dr. Keith Boesen, director of the Arizona Poison & Drug Information Center said drugs cycle through popularity, but the current heroin epidemic is unique because the addiction often stems from pain medication additions.

"The natural cycle would be is that prescription medications are incredibly expensive to take larger and larger amounts that it does switch people over to heroin," Dr. Boesen said.

Dr. Boesen said there has been a lot of focus on treating pain in the past 15 years, and that could have played a role in the heroin epidemic.

"One of the thoughts is that we did such a good job of treating the pain, we've overwhelmed the market with prescription pain medications and they are fairly addictive,"Boesen said.

A solution to the problem is not simple, according to Boesen, coming up and executing the solution requires coordination from agencies in various fields on the local, state and national level.

While a part of the problem is the over use of prescription medication he said, immediately cutting back on it could do more harm than good.

"The addiction is still out there. When they can't get their prescription pain medications, the fear is that they would switch heroin," Boesen said,.

Hess said Pima County drug overdose deaths often mirror national trends. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports there was a six-fold increase in the number of deaths by heroin overdose nationally.

If you or anyone you know needs help or information on drug overdose, call the Arizona Poison & Drug Information Center at 1-800-222-1222. You can call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Copyright 2016 Tucson News Now. All rights reserved.