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Yavapai County board reviews 2018 overdose fatalities

A billboard put up by MatForce near the intersection of Highway 69 and Highway 169 in Dewey. The billboard is part of MatForce’s effort to prevent overdose deaths in Yavapai County. (Max Efrein/Courtesy)

A billboard put up by MatForce near the intersection of Highway 69 and Highway 169 in Dewey. The billboard is part of MatForce’s effort to prevent overdose deaths in Yavapai County. (Max Efrein/Courtesy)

In 2018, there were 45 accidental and two undetermined drug-related deaths in Yavapai County.

Of those, 33 were men and 14 were women. The youngest was 18 and the oldest was 72, with the average age being 43.

These figures were gathered by the Yavapai County Overdose Fatality Review Board (OFRB) and officially released on Thursday, Sept. 19.

Since 2016, the OFRB has been studying overdose deaths in the county by taking a close look at a sampling of the decedents’ medical examiner’s reports, police reports, mental health histories, medical histories and legal histories. They also attempt to interview decedents’ families to gather additional information on such things as drug and alcohol use history, employment, education and family dynamics.

“A key component of what we’re doing is the family interview, because we need to learn a lot more than what’s in that medical examiner’s report or police report for us to really look at commonalities and work toward our ultimate goal of preventing these overdose deaths,” said Merilee Fowler, executive director of MatForce, the organization that established the OFRB.

For the 2018 report, 23 of the 47 cases were reviewed by the board and 13 families agreed to be interviewed.

Some of the most significant findings from the report were the following:

  1. Poly drug use (combining two or more psychoactive drugs) continues to be the No. 1 cause of accidental drug overdose death in Yavapai County.
  2. The use and supply of illicit fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid, has significantly increased in Yavapai County. The drug is being laced in multiple drugs including heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and counterfeit prescription drugs.
  3. The use and supply of methamphetamine is significantly increasing in Yavapai County. Methamphetamine intoxication as a cause of death has significantly increased.
  4. Multiple prescription drug overdose deaths occurred with individuals struggling with chronic pain or other significant medical conditions. The deaths occurred due to individuals developing opioid use disorders and mismanaging medications that are prescribed to them by medical practitioners.
  5. Prevention is key. Early age of initiation is a risk factor for developing use disorders. In over 70% of the accidental drug overdose cases that were reviewed, the decedent began using alcohol and or marijuana as a youth.


During a community presentation of the report’s results on Thursday, much of the focus was on what can be done moving forward to prevent further overdose deaths in the county.

Members of the law enforcement, medical and substance abuse treatment communities each provided recommendations, which were noted in the report.

Some of those suggestions were the following:

  1. Host training for law enforcement and first responders on addiction and use disorders.
  2. Enhance and promote opioid alternatives to pain management in Yavapai County.
  3. Develop and implement a policy in Yavapai County where the Medical Examiner’s Office sends notices to physicians who have prescribed medication to decedents following accidental drug overdose deaths.
  4. Develop and implement an education campaign on the dangers of fentanyl.
  5. Advocate for treatment providers to enhance treatment options after a client has experienced a drug overdose.

The 2018 report will be available at, or requests for copies can be made by calling MatForce at 928-708-0100.

Follow Max Efrein on Twitter @mefrein, email him at or call him at 928-445-3333 ext. 1105.

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