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Opioid Crisis Graham County: A change in addiction

GRAHAM COUNTY — While Graham County experienced relatively few opioid-related overdoses as compared to the other parts of the state — 65 in Graham County since 2017 — that doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem in the area when it comes to opioid abuse.

Which begs the question: Where are those pills coming from?

Data from the Drug Enforcement Administration, obtained by the Washington Post, shows pharmaceutical sales of opioids from 2006 to 2012 for every county in the nation. Graham County saw 14.6 million pills distributed during that six-year period. That number, combined with the population of Graham County, equals 58 pills for every man, woman and child per year.

The top sellers of opioids in Graham County were all located in Safford, with DSW Enterprises Inc. (parent of Walton Drug) being the top distributor with 3.6 million pills dispensed during those six years.

The Courier sought out the comments of multiple pharmacists and pharmacy technicians in the Safford area, and one individual chose to speak on the condition of anonymity.

“There has been a huge decrease in the amount of narcotics being written and dispensed,” said the pharmacy official. “The situation is definitely getting better.

“Our focus now needs to be on the meth and heroin problems. With all the new rules/regulations the DEA has put into place in the last few years on prescribed narcotics, it seems like the abuse potential has declined and is still declining.

“(Graham County citizens’) local prescribers and pharmacies care about the people and the community,” the pharmacy official continued, “and we will continue to do what is ethical and right to help fight this battle.”

The Courier researched the number of meth seizures by U.S Customs and Border Protection, as well as a comparison of heroin use corresponding to opioid addiction. After reaching a high of 6,023 separate incidents of heroin being seized, the number of seizures by CBP dropped 35 percent to 3,924 seizure incidents to date in fiscal year 2019.

However, meth seizures have been increasing over the last six years, reaching a high of 56,362 incidents last year. To date in 2019, there have been 53,849 separate meth seizure incidents by CBP nationwide.

According to the article “Prescription opioid use is a risk factor for heroin use” published by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 80 percent of heroin users reported they used prescription opioids before using heroin.

The Graham County Substance Abuse Coalition

The coalition has had a rough year so far, with the loss of one of its fundamental grants used to pay for two of the coalition’s employees and the Above the Influence school campaign. However, the director of the coalition, Kathy Grimes, told the Courier that she has applied for multiple grants to make up the loss of funding. She said she’s still waiting to find out if the coalition has been awarded any or all of the grants.

“Our primary focus will be Graham County youths, ages 12-17, and their parents/caregivers. Our secondary focus will be on the community public and local prescribers,” Grimes said in an e-mail to the Courier.

“Not unlike the epidemic plaguing the nation, the issue of prescription and illicit opioid misuse in our rural and isolated community is profound. Between 2014 and 2017, inpatient substance-related hospitalizations rose a shocking 54.8 percent in Graham County, with a current rate of 71.6 per 100,000 population, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services. We also now have the highest rate in the state of substance-related emergency department visits at 299.5 per 100,000 population — 48.3 percent higher than the state rate.”

Grimes attributed the majority of the emergency department visits to the increased presence of opioids within Graham County, as well as “cocktailing” opioids with alcohol or other substances.

Despite the lack of funding, Grimes said she remains committed to making anti-drug presentations at the request of any teacher in Graham County. She also added that the Graham County Coalition’s sober living facility is moving ahead in development.

The coalition held an Overdose Awareness Day ceremony Thursday, Aug. 29, on the steps of the Graham County Courthouse in Safford. And the coalition’s annual Substance Abuse Awareness Symposium will take place Wednesday, Sept. 18, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., in the Hoopes Activity Center and Lee Little Theater on the Thatcher campus of Eastern Arizona College. For information call 928-322-1747 or e-mail grahamsubstancecoalition@gmail.com.

America’s Mattress celebrates grand opening

SAFFORD — Steve Junion said the family’s newest store has already “exceeded” the goals the owners set.

On Friday, owners Steve and Diane Junion celebrated the official grand opening of their newest store, America’s Mattress Showroom, with a Graham County Chamber of Commerce ribbon-cutting.

“We’ve exceeded everything we planned to start at,” Steve said. “It’s really grown since the soft opening (in June); both stores have grown.”

The Junions also own Valley Furniture & Appliance on Armory Road in Safford.

“That growth stems from support in the community,” Diane said.

“That’s why we’ve been here 25 years; in fact, Oct. 1 is our 25th anniversary,” Steve said.

America’s Mattress Showroom, located in the Walmart Plaza next to the Carl’s Jr. restaurant on 20th Avenue, broke ground in October 2018.

The store opened to the public in June and features the “Sleep Simple theater that takes you through 10 or 12 questions and helps you decide what mattress is going to be best for you, depending on how you sleep and your comfort level,” said Sam Curtis, store manager, during the store’s soft opening.