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How Community Assessments Can Strengthen Arizona’s Response to the Opioid Crisis

2023 engaging community coalitions to ecrease opioid overdose deaths practice guide

How Community Assessments Can Strengthen Arizona’s Response to the Opioid Crisis

“Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only. Building community coalitions and conducting needs assessments should be done in consultation with Arizona public health experts, local leaders, and people with lived experience to ensure efforts are responsive to the community and do not cause unintentional harm.”

Introduction: The Opioid Epidemic’s Uneven Impact in Arizona

The opioid epidemic has hit Arizona hard, with over 2,000 Arizonans losing their lives to overdose in 2021 alone – a staggering 45% increase from 2019. However, the crisis impacts different regions and populations within our state in unique ways. To effectively prevent opioid overdose deaths, community coalitions must first gain a clear understanding of their local context through a thorough community assessment.

Key Steps in Conducting a Community Assessment

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) new Community Engagement Practice Guide, key steps in assessing your community include:
  1. Defining the geographic area and population you aim to serve
  2. Engaging local experts, especially people with lived experience
  3. Gathering data on existing services, gaps, assets and resources

Understanding the Needs of Arizona’s Tribal Communities

In Arizona, tribal communities have been disproportionately impacted. The opioid death rate among American Indians in Arizona was 20.8 per 100,000 in 2020, compared to 16.7 for all Arizonans. Coalitions serving tribal nations must take into account the unique cultural, historical and jurisdictional context.

Addressing Illicit Fentanyl in Border Counties

Arizona’s southern border counties are also facing distinct challenges related to illicit fentanyl trafficking. In Pima County, fentanyl was linked to 58% of overdose deaths in 2021, compared to 44% statewide. Speaking with law enforcement, emergency responders, and community outreach groups can shed light on trends and priority areas for intervention in border communities.

Identifying Service Gaps and Assets in Urban Areas

Urban areas like Phoenix and Tucson tend to have more treatment resources compared to rural parts of the state, but also larger numbers of people in need. A community asset map can reveal where services are concentrated and identify underserved neighborhoods and populations to engage.

Assessing Barriers to Treatment Access

Statewide, nearly 21,000 Arizonans received publically-funded substance use treatment in 2021, but many more need help. The Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, Arizona’s Medicaid program, covers medications for opioid use disorder, but 1 in 10 Arizonans remain uninsured. Assessing barriers to accessing coverage and treatment in your community is critical.

Centering the Voices of Arizonans with Lived Experience

Hearing directly from Arizonans impacted by opioid use through focus groups, interviews, and community forums is essential to any local needs assessment. Their stories provide invaluable insights that data alone cannot capture. Just be sure to create a welcoming, non-stigmatizing environment, provide support resources, and compensate people for their contributions.

Conclusion: Community Assessments Are Key to Saving Arizona Lives

The SAMHSA guide provides an interactive worksheet to support a robust community assessment. While the process takes time, it’s a vital step to ensure your coalition’s efforts are data-driven, tailored to your local context, and responsive to community priorities. Arizona’s diversity is its strength – by uniting around a shared commitment to save lives, community coalitions can lead the way to an Arizona free from overdose. For support, contact the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System or the Arizona Department of Health Services.

Furthermore, if you want to learn more about How Community Assessments Can Strengthen Arizona’s Response to the Opioid Crisis, download the PDF below

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Nirvana Recovery