Utah looks to capitalize on dip in opioid drug deaths

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah has one of the highest rates of opioid-related deaths in the country, but Utah health officials said Wednesday they’re noticing an encouraging dip in such fatalities and they’re working to push the rate down further with new plans to tighten control over such drugs and educate people about their dangers.

State lawmakers are introducing a handful of new proposals this year meant to tighten control over prescription painkillers and new synthetic opioids like the drug known as pink, which was responsible for the overdose deaths of two teenagers last year.

Utah ranks in the top ten in the country for drug overdose deaths, with six state residents dying each week from opioid overdoses, Utah Department of Health officials said. But there are encouraging signs: The number of drug-related deaths has dropped from 25 per month to 23 over the last few years, said Angela Stander, a drug overdose specialist at the department. She said a state campaign about the safest way to use, store and throw-out opioids over the last few years has helped.

But Democratic Rep. Carol Spackman Moss says the dip isn’t enough. Moss is sponsoring two opioid-related plans this legislative session, including one that would make the new synthetic drug, called U-47700, sometimes known as “pink”, illegal in Utah. She said the idea for the proposal came after two 13-year-old boys in the state’s ski-resort town of Park City overdosed on the drug in October.

Republican Rep. Ray Ward, of Bountiful, is also sponsoring two opioid-related proposals, including a plan that would require doctors only prescribe one week of opioids when it is the patient’s first prescription.

On Wednesday, the health department held an event to announce the launch of their new campaign called “Stop the Opidemic,” which is meant to spread awareness about the dangers of the drugs.

Alema Harrington, a former football player at Brigham Young University, talked about his experience struggling with opioid addiction.

He said on opiates, the part of his brain that told him he needed food or water, “is now telling me if we don’t get some opiates we’re going to die.”

Other opioid-related proposals in the works this year include requiring that Utah physicians get trained in a national program to help curb opioid abuse, and one that would allow patients to fill just half of their drug prescription at one time.

States across the country are working to curb their own epidemics. National Conference of State Legislatures said it tracked more than 500 state proposals dealing with prescription drug abuse in 2016. They expect a similar number this year, said Karmen Hanson, a program director at the council.


Associated Press writer Geoff Mulvihill contributed to this report.


This story has been corrected to show the name of an organization is the National Conference of State Legislatures, not Council.

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