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Opioid Epidemic: Utah

Map of USA with Utah highlighted to show the Opioid epidemic.

According to the Utah Department of Health, Utah is ranked seventh highest in the nation for drug overdose deaths. In 2015, 25 individuals died every month from prescription opioid overdose. Data shows that oxycodone drugs, such as OxyContin and Percocet, accounted for 55 percent of these deaths, while hydrocodone accounted for about 18 percent.

Although Utah is seeing a decrease in prescription opioid overdose, the state is simultaneously seeing an increase in heroin deaths. Carbon and Emery counties and the city of Ogden are a few of the areas most affected, and have significantly higher opioid death rates compared to the state. Last year, the state launched a campaign called “Stop Opidemic” to bring awareness to Utah’s opioid epidemic. The campaign revealed that 80 percent of heroin users started with prescription opioids, and that 6 Utah residents die every week from overdose. To take action against the opioid epidemic, the campaign advocates steering clear of opioids, asking your doctor for alternative pain management options, avoid taking more than your prescribed dosage, never sharing pain killers, getting rid of unused medication, carrying naloxone, and knowing the signs of an overdose.

In 2014, the Utah State Legislature passed two laws to help reduce drug overdose deaths. These included the Good Samaritan Law, which enables bystanders to report an overdose without fear of criminal prosecution for possession of an illicit drug, and the Naloxone Law. This law allows physicians to prescribe naloxone to third parties such as the caregiver of someone at risk for an overdose, and permits these individuals to administer naloxone. Furthermore, families who have lost loved ones to opioid overdose have been working with Utah legislators to pass bills such as HB286 and HB375. HB286 allows family members to intervene on an individual’s behalf and petition for court-ordered intervention and treatment, while HB375 requires prescribers and dispensers to use a substance database to determine whether a patient could be abusing opioids.

As of 2017, Utah received a share of a $485 million grant given by the Department of Health and Human Services, which was distributed through the Utah Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services to create or expand programs to combat opioid abuse. The next steps in moving forward will be improving the quality and insurance coverage of addiction treatment, implementing a nationwide system with prescription data, and creating easily accessible drop-off locations for unneeded medication.