New report: Arizona opioid crisis costs state billions

The opioid crisis, heightened by the proliferation of dangerous, cheap, abundant fentanyl, will cost Arizona $53.4 billion dollars, according to a new report. 

A recent analysis published and released by the Common Sense Institute (CSI) Arizona finds that the opioid epidemic in Arizona is not only a detriment to the state economy, but also a larger national and public safety issue. 

“Fentanyl is a serious threat to the health and safety of our communities, and it also directly affects our economic growth,” Arizona. Gov. Doug Ducey said in a news release by CSI. “At the state level, we are taking action to protect Arizonans and stop the flow of these dangerous drugs through the southern border. President Biden needs to step up and do his part to address the fentanyl crisis — but in Arizona, our focus is strengthening border security, supporting law enforcement, and keeping these drugs off our streets.” 

The report emphasizes Arizona’s opioid epidemic accelerated due to a lack of resources for law enforcement members and the federal crackdown on prescription painkillers. 

“This really was a perfect storm of events that should serve as a cautionary tale for policymakers at all levels: the unintended consequences of federal policy changes are hard to predict, can interact with other policies in novel and unexpected ways, and in combination the unintended can dwarf the intended,” said the report’s author, CSI Director of Policy and Research Glenn Farley. 

The report says the federal government’s shift in border security guidelines enabled a lack of attention to border security and a subsequent deviation of resources further contributed to Arizona’s fentanyl crisis. 

According to reports, China produces 90% of the world’s supply of fentanyl. But direct shipments of fentanyl from China to the United States have decreased since 2019. Evidence suggests manufacturers transit chemical precursors to black market labs where fentanyl can be smuggled into the U.S.  

CSI data indicates the illicit drugs being smuggled through the southern border. According to the CSI report, a surge in drug smugglings and a decrease in fentanyl seizures may be leading to increased fentanyl overdoses in Arizona.

In 2021, an abrupt halt of physical construction barriers at the Arizona southern border left four wide gaps enabling increased illegal crossings allowing for an increase in smuggled fentanyl. 

“This report adequately expresses – in data – what we’ve been experiencing because of issues at the border for months,” Arizona State Troopers President Jeff Hawkins said. 

“The fentanyl coming across our borders is destroying our communities,” said Jason Winsky, chairman of Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Arizona.Every intervention — from enforcement to treatment — must be as robust as possible. We can ill afford half measures while this crisis has become one of the leading causes of death in our nation.”

Additionally, the report argues an increase of 500,000 illegal U.S.-Mexico border crossings per year to an expected 3.4 million in 2022 combined with a termination of federal border security programs and new federal border policies have substantially reallocated personnel and resources away from the southern border, including drug enforcement, “severely hampers anti-trafficking efforts.” 

CSI cites an enforcement burden that has dramatically shifted inland to Arizona state and local authorities. State law enforcement authorities increasingly intercept and halt the flow of fentanyl in Arizona. Since 2020, DPS fentanyl seizures in the state’s four southern border counties have increased 380%, while CBP seizures have collapsed. 

While state law enforcement has valiantly addressed the fentanyl crisis currently affecting Arizona neighborhoods, urban violent crime rates have continued to increase. CSI finds that while the violent crime rate steadily dropped for 35 years, violent crime rates reversed after 2014 and have accelerated in 2022, adversely impacting businesses. 

“We’re hearing stories about people going into bathrooms of restaurants or small businesses and finding somebody passed out or even deceased because they go into the bathroom to use fentanyl,” Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell said. 

Through various economic and public safety assessments, it’s been generally accepted that 25-50% of all violent crime being drug-related is common. 

Therefore, CSI finds it reasonable to assume that the crime rate increase will be concentrated in jurisdictions that have the following contributory factors: high rates of drug and opioid abuse, fewer police officers and changes in policing, or significant conduits along the national fentanyl distribution chain. 

Phoenix struggles with all three. 

“The increase in fentanyl seizures is a serious threat to public safety,” Mitchell said. “Keeping this illicit drug off our streets and prosecuting those who flood it into our communities is a top priority of our office.”

And all these contributory factors have cost the state an astronomical amount of money. 

The report finds the fentanyl crisis’ fiscal and economic impact to be massive – currently costing the state $53.4 billion dollars (a 250% increase since 2010), which is 1/5 of the state’s total economy. 

According to Farley, the cost is further increased by reduced productivity and quality of life for those with opioid addiction, in addition to medical treatment costs. 

“The opioid crisis has only gotten worse since 2016, and all trends this year point in the wrong direction. I doubt we are at a peak,” Farley said. 

CSI produced an annual per case cost of both fatal overdose and opioid misuse. For reference, the data-driven nonprofit estimates Arizona’s social cost of opioid use disorder for 2022 will be $102,143 and the social cost of fatal overdose will be $264,106. 

As fatal opioid overdoses in Arizona continue to rise, the annual per case cost will follow.

Michael Kittilson

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