The use of prescription and illicit opioids led to over 33,000 deaths in the U.S. in 2015, a figure that has quadrupled since 1999, according to the CDC. The problem stems from prescription painkillers like OxyContin and fentanyl, which share close similarities with drugs like heroin and morphine, but are widely prescribed to people in moderate or severe pain. While the medications can help people in pain live normal lives, they carry a big risk of addiction, and drug rehab centers in Utah and around the country have noted a big increase in patients with opioid addictions. But what can we do about it? How can states resolve the growing problem?
There are many different approaches, but Utah is making especially big strides in stemming the tide of opioid addiction in the state.
Scope of the Opioid Addiction Problem in Utah
Drug rehab centers in Utah have been inundated with opioid addicts in recent years. Mirroring the trend in the country as a whole, Utah has seen a 400% increase in deaths related to prescription drug use from 2000 to 2014. More people died from drug overdose from 2012 to 2014 than died from motor vehicle accidents, firearms or falls. Overall, Utah ranks fourth in drug overdose deaths in the country.
Shockingly, almost a third of adults in Utah were prescribed an opioid painkiller in 2014, and this is the main driver of overdose deaths. People start taking prescription painkillers for legitimate medical reasons, but, in time, they become dependent on the drugs and start taking more and more. In fact, more than three out of five people who die from a prescription opioid overdose in Utah have a physical health problem.
How Utah Is Tackling the Prescription Opioid Problem
While drug rehab centers in Utah help individuals overcome their addictions, a wide-ranging problem like the prescription opioid epidemic needs state or even national-level solutions. Utah has enjoyed some success in the past — having decreased overdose deaths by 28% from 2007 to 2010, when the state provided funding to tackle the problem — but rates are rising again. However, recent legislation and more general steps taken by the state offer some help for a long-term solution to the problem.
- Providing Naloxone: Naloxone (brand name Narcan) is an antidote for opioid overdoses. The drug can be administered by people with minimal training, is low-cost and non-addictive. The state passed a law in 2014 which allowed the drug to be prescribed to third parties. This means anybody with a family member or loved one abusing opioids can get naloxone, and people are also protected from legal consequences in the event they have to use it.
- The Good Samaritan Law: Another 2014 law protects bystanders from prosecution for reporting a drug overdose. If you report an overdose in Utah, you won’t be prosecuted for illegal possession of a drug or controlled medication.
- No-Questions-Asked Drop Boxes: Pharmacies in Utah have no-questions-asked boxes where residents can dispose of their unneeded or out-of-date medications, which prevents the drugs from being used by a family member or friend non-medically.
- Raising Awareness: Finally, an important step in tackling the opioid epidemic is making sure people know about the risks of opioid painkillers and the various ways the problem can be addressed. For example, providing education to citizens and doctors about naloxone ensures that more people who could benefit from it have access. Education about the risks also keeps people on the lookout for signs of a problem in a friend or loved one.
Tackling Opioid Abuse Needs a Multifaceted Approach
Members of the public, doctors and drug rehab centers in Utah must all come together to help more people overcome their addictions and to minimize the risk of death. No single approach is enough to tackle a complex problem like prescription painkiller abuse, so Utah and other states need to take proactive steps to keep the problem under control. Utah has made great strides, but the work has to continue in order to protect more of those in need.
“Prescription Drug Overdoses” – Utah Department of Health, Violence & Injury Prevention Program
“Drug Overdose Death Data” – CDC
“Legislators target Utah’s opioid problem” by Aldo Vazquez