National Substance Abuse Prevention Month

October was first declared National Substance Abuse Prevention Month in 2011. Millions of Americans suffer from substance use disorder, which includes underage drinking, alcohol dependency, non-medical use of prescription drugs, abuse of over-the-counter medications, and illicit drug use.

Arizona has been especially hard hit by opioid misuse. In 2017, a statewide public health emergency was declared to reduce opioid deaths.

Fast facts from the CDC and Arizona Department of Health Services:

  • There were more than 107,600 drug overdose deaths in the United States in 2021, the highest annual death toll ever recorded in the U.S.
  • Arizona adults have higher rates of death due to drugs than the national average
  • More than 9 Arizonans a day experience a non-fatal opioid overdose
  • In 2021, more than 5 Arizonans a day died from opioids
  • In 2021, there were more than 52,000 opioid-related hospitalizations and emergency department visits in Arizona costing a total of $2.2 billion
  • In 2022, 81% of opioid deaths involved multiple drugs, which is an increasing trend

“This month presents an opportunity to educate and increase awareness while also reducing stigma,” said Dr. Christine Wiggs, President of the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona Foundation for Community & Health Advancement. “Some may believe substance misuse is a choice or a character flaw. There are so many preconceived notions and stigmas surrounding substance use disorder. Education is so important on this front so we can strike out those stigmas and understand how opioids interact with brains differently depending on factors such as past experiences and trauma.”

Fentanyl on the rise

The Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) recently released its Opioid Overdoses Surveillance Report for 2020-2021.

According to the report, more than 2,000 Arizonans lost their lives to opioid overdoses in 2021, with fentanyl being the most commonly reported drug in opioid overdoses. In the past few years, the driver behind overdose deaths has shifted from overprescribing to illicitly manufactured fentanyl pills.

“We are seeing a major increase in death due to fentanyl overdose,” Dr. Wiggs stated. “Fentanyl is remarkably powerful, even the smallest grain of fentanyl can lead to overdose.”

Fighting back

Substance use disorder is one of the four focus areas of the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona Foundation for Community Health & Advancement.

“We’re proud to partner with organizations and to step into gaps,” Dr. Wiggs said. “We provide grants and work with others who are doing really good work to make Arizona healthier. It is those partners who are embedded in the community and know what community members need.”

Here is a list of organizations that have received grant funds from the Foundation, as of June 2022, to combat substance use disorder. Updates to this list are coming soon.

Be ready to help a stranger or loved one

Naloxone, also known as Narcan, is a medication used to counter the effects of opioid overdose. Naloxone reverses the effects of an opioid overdose and then allows the individual to breathe normally once administered. The ADHS issued a standing order in 2017 that allows any Arizona-licensed pharmacist to dispense one of the three forms of Naloxone to any individual without a prescription. Arizonans can pick up Naloxone at all pharmacy locations across the state.

Attend a training or watch a demonstration so you feel comfortable administering Narcan should you encounter someone in crisis.

Statewide, anyone can get access to Narcan, which is a life-saving medication. But we also want people to know how to use it because it can be intimidating,” Dr. Wiggs said. “Training helps people understand how it works and eliminates some of that fear so you can feel empowered to take action, rather than feeling helpless.”

A substance use disorder is a mental disorder that affects a person's brain and behavior, leading to a person's inability to control their use of substances such as legal or illegal drugs, alcohol, or medications. For more resources and ways to get involved in substance abuse prevention, visit: Arizona | Substance Abuse Prevention (


This information is provided for educational purposes only. Individuals should always consult with their healthcare providers regarding medical care or treatment, as recommendations, services or resources are not a substitute for the advice or recommendation of an individual's physician or healthcare provider. Services or treatment options may not be covered under an individual's particular health plan.