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Pima County receives funds from opioid settlement for overdose prevention efforts

Deputy County Administrator and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Francisco Garcia, left, answers questions while Pima County Attorney Laura Conover, center, and attorney Joseph “JoJo” Tann listen during a news conference at Pima County Courthouse in Tucson on Sept. 28, 2022. Pima County officials held a news conference focusing on how Pima County’s estimated $48.5 million share of the opioid settlement with pharmaceutical companies and distributors will be used to address the ongoing epidemic.

With help from funds received from the Arizona opioid settlement, Pima County officials announced new plans for overdose preventions efforts on Wednesday, debuting the Make a Call campaign.

Pima County Attorney Laura Conover said her office, Pima County, the Tucson Police Department, the Pima County Sheriff’s Department, the Pima County Health Department and Community Medical Services would be collaborating with each other to tackle the fentanyl crisis and opioid overdose deaths.

Beginning this year, the county and other local jurisdictions are expected to receive about $48.5 million over the next 18 years as part of One Arizona Opioid Settlement Funds, a legal settlement between the state attorney general and pharmaceutical companies and distributors to mitigate the harm caused by the opioid epidemic, a memorandum from County Administrator Jan Lesher said. The county’s share of funding is expected to be about $35 million with the rest going to other jurisdictions like the city of Tucson, Marana, Sahuarita, Oro Valley and South Tucson.

In September, Pima County received its first portion of the funds, $1.5 million. According to the memorandum, the county plans on using the funds for such things as prevention, supporting people in treatment and recovery, connecting people who need help to the health they need, training and research.

The county’s Board of Health will start a substance misuse advisory committee, which will include members from all of the participating jurisdictions, to help prioritize what areas to invest in, the county’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Francisco Garcia said at the news conference.

“Since 2017, we’ve had over 2,000 deaths from opioid overdose and 60 of them have been individuals less than 19 years of age,” said Dr. Francisco Garcia at a news conference. “This is something that now is impacting everyone from our very youngest to our very oldest. It is affecting every single neighborhood, every single census tract and every single family in one way or another.”

So far this year, Pima County has had 299 overdose deaths. Last year, 497 people in the county died due to overdoses, data from the medical examiner’s office shows.

Garcia said although the money is like a “drop in the bucket when you think about the complexity of the problem,” it is a start.

Conover also debuted the Make a Call campaign, a public service announcement that educates residents on the steps to take to help prevent death when an overdose is happening.

The video, which is English and Spanish, features Conover, Tucson police Chief Chad Kasmar and Sheriff Chris Nanos encouraging community members to call 911 immediately when witnessing a possible overdose, reminding them that Arizona law protects them from prosecution for personal drug and paraphernalia possession.

The video also demonstrates how to administer Narcan and how to get free Narcan, which can reverse the effects of an overdose, by going to pimahelpline.org. Conover wants the ad to be distributed everywhere, including TV, YouTube and social media.

“This is all of our problem, it’s not just that person’s problem or that neighborhood’s problem,” Garcia said. “This is a common problem that we all are having, and it will require a formative, collaborative and robust approach to solve.”

Jamie Donnelly covers breaking news for the Arizona Daily Star. Contact her via e-mail at jdonnelly@tucson.com


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