January 31, 2020

Thousands of calls placed to Arizona’s opioid help hotline

Officials say the line has helped thousands since its launch and has also saved lives.

It’s been nearly two years since the Arizona Opioid Assistance and Referral Line took its first call as a result of Gov. Doug Ducey’s Opioid Epidemic Act.

Since March of 2018, the Arizona Poison and Drug Information Center in Tucson and the Banner Poison Drug and Information Center in Phoenix have been operating the Arizona Opioid Assistance and Referral Line. It’s the first of its kind in the nation and a free, 24-hour service.

The managing director of the Arizona Poison and Drug Information Center in Tucson, Steven Dudley, says the help line was desperately needed. According to the Arizona Department of Health Services, almost 4,000 suspected opioid-related deaths have been reported in the state.

Dudley says what makes the OAR Line unique is the fact that specially certified pharmacists, nurses, physicians and toxicologists answer the calls and are equipped to answer questions related to opioids from both private citizens as well as health professionals.

According to Dudley, questions from private citizens range from weening strategies to proper dosages. Health care professionals, he says, usually have questions about new prescribing laws

“It was a lot of information to drop at one time that went into effect really quickly ... so with that came a lot of confusion like: 'Well, am I doing this right? I don’t want to get in trouble I don’t want to break the law.'”

Kim Schmid, poison informatics coordinator at the Banner Poison Center, adds that follow-up care is a major component of the opioid line, especially with patients.

“It’s for their comfort [to] make sure somebody out there cares. They may be alone, they may be scared, they may not have anyone that can stay with them,” Schmid said.

Health officials at both the Tucson and Phoenix offices say the opioid line has helped thousands since its launch and has also saved lives.

But as the service continues to grow, they say they would like to see more efforts to get the word out. Right now, it’s promoted at through medical facilities, community outreach programs and the media. In addition to broader efforts to get the word out, Dudley says he would like to see the telephone-based service expand its technical capabilities.

“We’re in 2020. We have the internet and we have telecommunication. We have video conferencing and capabilities to be able to reach the rural areas of Arizona who don’t have clinics, who don’t have resources, to be able to offer a face-to-face consultation to help give that expert information to the patients out there,” Dudley said.

And as more folks get dialed into the services the phone line has to offer, Dudley hopes the opioid crisis will dial down, and eventually become an epidemic we can hang up.

If you would like more information on the services the Arizona Opioid Assistance and Referral Line has to offer or if you need help with any opioid related issues, contact the helpline at 1-888-688-4222.

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