Within a week, Phoenix’s public libraries used up a month’s worth of the overdose-reversing drug Narcan made available at no cost to the public. The 1,600 kits cleared out almost immediately.
All 17 of Phoenix’s public libraries began offering the emergency overdose treatment last week. Narcan, or naloxone, is a nasal spray that reverses opioid and fentanyl overdoses.
Mayor Kate Gallego touted the Narcan kit rollout as life-saving. Gallego told reporters that civilians and other city workers may now intervene as first responders.
“By placing Naloxone in the hands of city employees and making it more accessible to residents, we’re creating a network of potential first responders who can make a significant impact in emergency situations,” said Gallego.
The Phoenix Public Library system didn’t post any announcements on their social media pages about the new overdose kit rollout, but did feature the young winners of their summer reading competition.
Library-goers may witness Narcan administrations while reading or dropping off their borrowed books.
As of last week, AZDHS reported nearly 800 opioid deaths, over 2,400 non-fatal opioid overdose events, and over 5,000 emergency and inpatient visits related to suspected opioid overdoses so far this year. First responders were able to administer Naloxone in about 4,000 out of 5,200 suspected opioid overdose responses (77 percent).
Compared with 2022 totals, there are 312 less opioid deaths and over 400 more non-fatal opioid overdose events this year compared to this time last year. However, AZDHS noted that data for the last four months may still be in the process of being collected.
It may be that the death count for this year will be greater than last year. The last four months currently report a sharp decline in opioid deaths compared to last year and 2021, but the first four months of the year overall represented an increase in deaths from last year and from 2021.
However, the opioid death total dropped by 89 from 2021 to 2022, from around 2,000 to around 1,900.
Emergency and in-patient visits for suspected drug overdoses are occurring at similar rates this year compared with last year: over 5,700 this year compared to around 5,600 this time last year and around 6,800 this time in 2021. There are less suspected opioid overdose first responder responses compared to this time last year: around 5,200 compared to 6,300.
A majority of opioid overdoses are due to fentanyl. Last year, nearly 66 percent of Phoenix-based opioid deaths involved fentanyl.
Downtown Phoenix’s residents experienced a glimmer of hope in the ongoing homeless crisis last month after a court declared the city to blame. If the city doesn’t appeal the court’s order, it may be the end of the massive encampment known as “The Zone.”
The decision flies in the face of the precedent set by other cities: plans and spending that yield no favorable results, ultimately forcing the residents to learn to live with the crime and squalor. Yet, Phoenix may no longer be resigned to the same fate borne by most other major cities. Downtown property and business owners were vindicated in their belief: city officials’ plans, spending, and promises alone don’t qualify as results.
Requiring results of the city could mean The Zone may cease to exist in the near future — restoring a square mile of the current wasteland of city-sanctioned slums into a healthy business district — but only if the city of Phoenix decides to follow through on the court-ordered action to resolve the homeless crisis. Cleaning up The Zone would mean finding shelter and services for around 800 homeless residing in the area, according to a census conducted by the Human Services Campus late last month.
The first bout of legal relief came for The Zone’s residents and business owners after the Maricopa County Superior Court ruled last month that the city of Phoenix was at fault for The Zone. The court ordered the city to show that it’s taking “meaningful steps” toward fixing The Zone. They have until July 10 to do so, with a trial date scheduled for June.
The ruling came days after the city of Phoenix promised to finally meet to fix The Zone, a promise prompted by back-to-back murders in the encampment.
Vice President for Legal Affairs at the Goldwater Institute, Timothy Sandefur, who submitted an amicus brief in the case, told AZ Free News that this ruling was a good first step toward remedying The Zone — but that the city has a ways to go.
“I think this is a first step and a very important one,” said Sandefur.
Sandefur said that the superior court indicated the best next steps for the city would be to build structured campgrounds and establish treatment programs, rather than continue with their current “housing first” approach.
However, notice of a settlement in a separate, federal case issued recently may complicate matters in finally getting the city of Phoenix to fix The Zone.
In the Arizona District Court case, the ACLU and the city held mediation about three weeks ago.
Details of the settlement weren’t made public. The Phoenix City Council plans to convene April 18 in an executive session — a meeting not open to the public — to discuss the terms of the settlement. At some point after, the Phoenix City Council will announce the settlement terms during a public meeting.
Of note, the city attempted to dismiss the superior court case — but not the federal case. The city also spent just shy of $100,000 fighting the superior court case.
Ilan Wurman, another lawyer on the lawsuit against the city, told AZ Free News that the court’s order to fix The Zone was thorough to the point where he imagined it would be difficult for the city to fight it.
“The court’s ruling is such a thorough victory for the business and property owners that it will be very hard for the city to overcome it at a full trial on the merits,” said Wurman. “We hope the city does the right thing and considers a settlement or simply follows through on the court’s instructions — that will save a lot of expense to taxpayers and it will be better for the unsheltered community as well.”
In remarks to the press, the city stresses that it has allocated around $140 million to solve the homeless crisis. However, there’s a difference between commitment and spending. Of the $120 million in COVID-19 relief funds received to address the homeless crisis, the city has only spent about 10 percent.
Of what little the city has spent for the homeless crisis, the Maricopa County Superior Court assessed that none of this spending has actually mitigated the crisis.
“With few exceptions, the action items about which city representatives testified centered around the creation of more bureaucracy, additional staff positions, and obtaining additional funding for programs to vaguely address homelessness in general,” stated Judge Scott Blaney. “The Court received very little evidence — if any — that the City intends to take immediate, meaningful action to protect its constituent business owners, their employees, and residents from the lawlessness and chaos in the Zone.”
However, in a recent interview, Mayor Kate Gallego indicated that the city was attempting to follow through on a “housing first” approach, and claimed that the city was “working very hard” to fix the homeless crisis.
As AZ Free News previously reported, “housing first” — also referred to as “permanent supportive” or “affordable” housing — holds the theory that the homeless will choose to seek employment, become financially responsible, and receive mental health care and/or substance abuse treatment if food and housing are provided. The theory also posits that enabling the homeless to choose their housing and support services will make them more likely to remain in that housing and stick with self-improvement initiatives.
Gallego shared that the city was working on launching seven new shelter options in partnership with various organizations, and that the city is hoping to receive additional help from both the state and federal government. She mentioned that she would meet with the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors.
Gallego disclosed that she recently spoke with Gov. Katie Hobbs about the homeless crisis — a conversation that had last occurred during Hobbs’ inauguration week in January. The mayor said that Hobbs was looking for additional resources to provide the city.
“Residents should feel confident that they’re going to see changes,” said Gallego. “The message we want to send to the public is that we recognize it’s a problem and we want to solve it.”
When questioned, Gallego didn’t directly deny that the city wouldn’t appeal the superior court’s decision.
In another interview, Gallego claimed that adequate law enforcement was taking place in The Zone. Gallego’s claim conflicted with the various investigative reports and witness accounts that depicted minimal law enforcement in The Zone.
“We treat every member of our community the same when they commit a crime. We want to be consistent and to enforce breaking the law,” said Gallego. “If you commit a crime, it is the same regardless of your housing status.”
However, the “Gaydos and Chad Show” testified to witnessing a myriad of criminal activity during a recent excursion in The Zone — including drug use, public defecation and urination, and prostitution — but not seeing any police presence. In response, Gallego claimed the city’s police were “too aggressive” when handling the homeless. The mayor cited the Arizona District Court case against the city as justification for her claim. However, that lawsuit concerned whether the city could enforce camping and sleeping bans, as well as whether the city had a right to seize or throw away items from homeless encampments as part of cleanup efforts. The lawsuit does not address police response to criminal activity.
Watch: The Zone – Homelessness and Crime Rampant in Phoenix
On Friday, Governor Doug Ducey engaged in a Twitter exchange with Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego for what he says are policies that “make zero sense.”
The governor sent a letter to Gallego and reminded the public that all State Parks will be open with free admission this weekend.
In his letter, the governor asserted that “Arizona’s parks are open. All parks. Everywhere. Rural and urban. From Phoenix to Tucson to Flagstaff. All towns and municipalities. Enjoy and GOD BLESS! #HappyEaster 3/3”
Phoenix City Councilman Sal DiCiccio thanked the governor for his letter:
Phoenix had set temporary restrictions in its parks, including closing parking lots and prohibiting grilling. The mayor made note that the decision was unanimous, however, DiCiccio’s Chief of Staff Sam Stone offered another view of the decision:
9-0 because Arizona’s Panic Pusher in Chief tied any reopening of Parks amenities and sports fields to also closing them on Easter
Laughable watching Gallego try to evade blame for something she was proudly taking credit for a few days ago https://t.co/HBgiLsNQG7