/ Modified aug 18, 2021 4:45 p.m.

The Life and Legacy of Sen. John McCain; Treating Opioid Addiction; Wildfires and Climate Change

And the OSIRIS-REx Mission marks a milestone.

U.S. Sen. John McCain died Saturday, August 25, at the age of 81 a year after a brain cancer diagnosis. He lived a life filled with family and decades of service, from the Navy to a career in politics. A look back at Sen. John McCain’s life and legacy.

Tucson Medical Center filed suit against more than 30 opioid distributors and manufacturers this week. It comes as data show physicians in Arizona are writing fewer prescriptions.

According to the Arizona Department of Health and Human Services, the number of pills dispensed each month dropped by 43 percent between June 2017 and June 2018, from more than 35,000 per month, to just over 20,000 per month. However, that decrease hasn't necessarily translated into a fall in drug use. The Drug Enforcement Administration said the number of illicit opioid seizures is up from this time last year. Doug Coleman, special agent in charge, explained some of the reasons.

"We see a lot of fentanyl coming across the border into Arizona now. And I think that's directly related to the fact that the opioid prescription drugs are getting harder and harder to get," Coleman said. In the last nine months, agents in Arizona have seized enough fentanyl to potentially kill 50 million Americans, according to Coleman.

The most recent Pima County Medical Examiner's report shows opioid overdoses are the No. 1 cause of death in the county. Drug addiction is attributed to the majority of property crimes, according to the Tucson Police Department. Last month, TPD implemented a new program to address both issues. The deflection program lets officers choose whether to arrest people for minor felony drug crimes, or refer them for treatment instead.

"This is a public health issue. So, what the deflection program is about is not putting these folks in jail where they don't receive treatment and it only exacerbates their issues," Assistant Chief Kevin Hall said.

Hall is spearheading TPD's efforts to address the opioid crisis. The department works with CODAC Health, Recovery & Wellness, Inc. medical professionals to assess each person and determine if it's safe for them to begin medicated assisted treatment for their addiction. CODAC can get patients started on daily doses of drugs like methadone so they can avoid withdrawals while they detox. Treatment can last anywhere from months to years, depending on a person's history of drug use.

"Once upon a time there was a belief that once you started methadone you could never come off it, but that's not really true," said Dan Barden, vice president of CODAC's clinical services. "We're always creating that hope in moving toward detox."

Since July, nearly 50 people have avoided arrest under TPD's deflection program. Officers can only refer adults for deflection. They cannot be on probation or parole for a violent offense, or have been arrested in the past year for a violent offense.

Hundreds of firefighters from Arizona have joined crews on the front lines of unprecedented wildfires in California. The deadly fires have sparked a discussion about the role of climate change in their intensity and growth. Arizona 360 explored the issue with University of Arizona professors Donald Falk and Michael Crimmins, who are experts in wildfire behavior and climate science, respectively. The two also explained how climate change could affect future wildfire seasons in Arizona.

NASA'S asteroid sample return mission OSIRIS-REx marked a milestone this month. The unmanned spacecraft is still a long way from its target, the asteroid Bennu, but the mission began "proximity operations" and captured the first images of the asteroid. The team leading the mission is based at the University of Arizona, and shared some of those photos this week. OSIRIS-REx launched in September 2016 and is expected to arrive at Bennu in December. Samples collected from the surface will be delivered back to Earth in September 2023.

Arizona 360
Arizona 360 airs Fridays at 8:30 p.m. on PBS 6 and Saturdays at 8 p.m. on PBS 6 PLUS. See more from Arizona 360.
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