SAFFORD — Prescription drug and heroin use is on the rise in the Gila Valley.

That’s according to Kathy Grimes, with the Graham County Substance Abuse Coalition.

“Prescription drug abuse is epidemic in Graham County,” she said. “There were 524 million class II-IV pills prescribed in Arizona in 2011, and 82 percent of them were hydrocodone or oxycodone.”

Grimes made her comments during the monthly meeting of Graham County Community Network Team on Thursday.

“We’re working with the medical community and law enforcement,” Grimes said. “We’re coordinating with the medical database to cut down on doctor shopping. The pharmacists have been extremely helpful, too, and we’re starting to work with dentists, who can also prescribe these medications.”

The database shows when a patient was prescribed the medication, and in what quantity. The goal is to stop an abuser from traveling from doctor to doctor and amassing large quantities of the drugs by obtaining new prescriptions.

Grimes also said the coalition recently obtained a $103,000 grant, which will be used to educate fourth- and fifth-graders on the dangers of substance abuse.

Also participating in Thursday’s meeting were representatives of Arizona Counseling and Treatment Services, Vocational Rehabilitation Services, St. Vincent DePaul Society, the Gila Valley Community Foundation, Graham County Rehabilitation Center, Safford City-Graham County Library, Community Bridges and Cenpatico.

Discussed were the upcoming Back to School Fair, Aug. 3 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., at Eastern Arizona College in Thatcher, and the Greenlee Health and Safety Fair, Aug. 2 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., at the Morenci Club in Morenci.

Also, Canyonland Healthcare is providing free sports physicals in return for the donation of a nonperishable food item. The donations will then be distributed to area food banks.

Graham County Community Network Team provides an opportunity for nonprofit and social service organizations to share information and network.

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