Helena Archer

Helena Archer Opioid Abuse Prevention

In my time at Coconino County Public Health Services District in Arizona, I’ve had the opportunity to learn more about local health needs by working on interesting hands-on projects, such as a geographic analysis of injuries, which are the leading cause of death in Coconino County—at twice the national rate. As part of the epidemiology team, I spend the bulk of my time analyzing health data that support our programs and help identify gaps in care and local needs.

I’ve also been part of gathering data on an emerging public health issue—the opioid crisis. I was recently asked to help our public information officer respond to media requests on opioid misuse in Coconino County and Arizona, which evolved into a full report on opioid-related deaths and hospital visits using county-level data. I was able to pull the data for the media request, research national trends and interventions for our chief health officer, and, under the guidance of our epidemiologist, create a report using death certificates and hospital data on local-level opioid overdose trends. It was very interesting to be able to work on an emergent epidemic, but it is also the type of work that challenges you in terms of the epidemiology. Opioid misuse is constantly changing, so there is some difficulty in collecting data on this problem to use in combatting it. But, that is also part of what makes it so engaging—discovering how to keep up with the data and the learning curve.

What has really made my PHAP experience special has been marrying the data with field work. For example, in the picture above, I’m suiting up with our environmental health team to dust insecticide in prairie dog burrows that had tested positive for plague. Although rare, plague is endemic in the region and causes prairie dog die-offs and the fleas left behind carry the disease, so the fleas must be killed. This work requires us to wear shoulder-to-toe protective suits and bug spray to keep from getting bitten by those remaining fleas—and potentially infected with plague.

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