Ducey calls special session on opioid crisis

Gov. Doug Ducey’s speech at a press conference Monday was followed by statements from Arizona congressional leaders from both parties in support of the state’s efforts to address opioid abuse. (Photo by Jenna Miller/ Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – Gov. Doug Ducey on Monday called a special legislative session to battle the opioid epidemic in Arizona, asking lawmakers to fund and expand healthcare.

The governor, under what he calls the Arizona Opioid Epidemic Act, is asking lawmakers to dedicate $10 million to improving health care access for uninsured or underinsured Arizonans, increase access of the overdose-reversal drug Naloxone and introduce a Good Samaritan law to encourage people to call 911 if they see someone suffering from an opioid overdose.

“Our plan is based on data and medical research,” said Ducey, flanked by Arizona legislators at the Capitol. “We worked closely with lawmakers of both parties who brought forward meaningful ideas that are included in the final package. Because of our work together, this proposal improved.”

The session, which started Monday afternoon, could send a bill to the governor’s desk by the end of the week, according to Patrick Ptak, a governor’s spokesman.

Janice Morrison knows addiction intimately: Her son, Brett, started using opioids after a snowboarding accident, leading to years of heroin addiction. Now, Brett is about to celebrate two years of sobriety. He works with addicts and speaks publicly about his experience with addiction. But for Morrison, the work isn’t done. She has spent the past few years fighting for a Good Samaritan law.

Legislation for a Good Samaritan law to protect bystanders from prosecution had been proposed in previous session but never made it out of the Legislature.

“It’s absolutely archaic that we don’t have it,” said Morrison, who did not attend Ducey’s announcement but said a special session is overdue. “We’re one of 10 states in the country that don’t have this.”

She reflects on a friend of her son who overdosed and died in a room full of people afraid to call 911.

“This should have been done ages ago,” she said.

The Arizona Department of Health Services said a survey of mainly health care professionals found that nearly 75 percent believe enacting a Good Samaritan law should be a top priority to alleviating the opioid crisis.

The past six months have been particularly deadly, according to the Department of Health Services. From June 15, 2017, to last week, 812 Arizonans died of suspected opioid overdoses.

Ducey addressed the human cost of the crisis in his State of the State earlier this month.

“Families, marriages and lives torn apart, tragically and unexpectedly because of a potent drug, misprescribed, overprescribed – and then before you know it, it’s too late,” Ducey said. “There’s no turning back.”

Senate President Steve Yarbrough, Senate Minority Leader Katie Hobbs, Speaker of the House J.D. Mesnard, House Minority Leader Rebecca Rios and health officials attended Monday’s announcement of the special session.

“While this bill is a thoughtful and thorough first step toward conquering the epidemic of opioid addiction in Arizona, we cannot and must not stop here,” Hobbs said. “We won’t win this battle with one bill, so it’s critical that we build upon this over the years ahead to identify and address the system that causes addiction.”