/ Modified feb 28, 2020 3:24 p.m.

Coronavirus precautions, treating addiction in jail, border detonations

Arizona 360 revisits AZPM's ongoing Arizona Addicted reporting series.

Federal health officials warned this week that the U.S. should prepare for a possible coronavirus outbreak. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the immediate risk remains low, its ongoing spread around the globe makes the virus harder to contain. Arizona 360 learned more about the concern and what early precautions people can take from Michael Worobey, department head of the University of Arizona Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

“One of the things I would recommend is to get your flu shot. Again, we have something available for a similar respiratory virus that can protect people. And even if it doesn’t directly protect you from landing in the hospital, it may protect the next person in line who might not get infected if you don’t have as much virus in your body,” Worobey said.

According to Worobey, even if the vaccine doesn’t prevent someone from contracting the flu, it can help mitigate its impact.

In a return to Arizona Public Media’s special reporting series Arizona Addicted, Lorraine Rivera toured the Pima County Adult Detention Complex to learn more about how staff treat inmates struggling with addiction or behavioral health issues. She learned more about a recent partnership between Pima County and the health care provider Centurion. The three-year contract costs about $50 million and provides inmates with access to care 24 hours a day. The services are especially useful when staff encounter an inmate dealing with a substance misuse disorder.

“If we can treat their problems here and we can get them into services, we’re going to save taxpayers money on the other end. This population is a high utilizer of all of the county services. The hospitals, the EMS units, the [crisis response center]. If we can help them here, perhaps we can decrease that overutilization on the outside,” said Linda Everett, program manager for Pima County Behavioral Health.

Over the years, the Pima County Attorney’s Office has developed programs that give those arrested for drug-related crimes the opportunity to avoid incarceration and enroll in treatment programs. Results include reduced recidivism and saving taxpayer dollars, according to chief deputy attorney Amelia Cramer. Cramer discussed the county’s approach and impact on the community.

“County attorney Barbara LaWall has been a visionary and in Arizona is at the forefront of offering treatment instead of prosecution, or if we have to prosecute, instead of jail or prison. And she’s helped create a continuum of interventions where there’s always an off-ramp to treatment,” Cramer said. “It costs less than half the cost of prison, and we’re saving not only the defendant’s life, but the lives of their children and their elderly parents and others that they can be there to care for in the community.”

For a third time, a state lawmaker from Peoria has introduced a bill that would decriminalize clean needle exchanges in Arizona. Arizona Republic reporter Stephanie Innes is tracking the legislation and discussed the issue with Lorraine Rivera.

“If you actually sit down and talk to the people who run the programs, one of the reasons they call it syringe services is because you’re not just getting clean needles there,” Innes said. “You’re getting tested for HIV and Hep C, you get referrals to treatment for addiction if you want it.”

Arizona 360 saw firsthand controlled blasts taking place on Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument where crews are installing a taller border wall. Customs and Border Protection allowed media to see the detonations the same day that Tohono O’odham Nation Chairman Ned Norris, Jr. testified before the House Committee on Natural Resources Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples that the construction threatens significant cultural and historical sites.

“This is no different from [Department of Homeland Security] building a 30-foot wall along Arlington Cemetery or through the grounds of the National Cathedral,” Norris testified.

Officials with CBP said the explosives are necessary to break through solid rock and give construction crews a better foundation to install 30-foot bollard fencing.

“This is actually less damaging than some of the other ways. And even some of the hydraulic hammers you can use will not break through some of this. So this is the fastest and most sufficient way to get it done,” project manager Jim O’Loughlin said.

The project near the port of entry in Lukeville calls for 43 miles of taller wall. Crews have completed about nine miles so far, O’Loughlin said. It’s one of several projects happening along the southern border. Norris told the subcommittee he wants Congress to revoke or limit the Department of Homeland Security’s authority to waive environmental laws as a way to expedite construction.

“Preservation of history and culture of O’odham is not just important to the Tohono O’odham Nation, it is important to the preservation of the history and culture of the United States,” Norris said.

CBP officials said the agency has taken steps to ensure the projects are not harming any cultural or historical sites.

“I think we do a very good job of taking into consideration, everywhere we go, any cultural impacts to anybody in the area,” O’Loughlin said.

Arizona 360
Arizona 360 airs Fridays at 8:30 p.m. on PBS 6 and Saturdays at 8 p.m. on PBS 6 PLUS. See more from Arizona 360.
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