The reality behind Utah's rampant opioid epidemic is downright devastating - the state has the 7th highest drug overdose rate in the nation, 80% of heroin users started with prescription pain relievers and 6 Utah's die every week from an opioid-related overdose. On Wednesday, state health officials and lawmakers took another step in the fight against this unprecedented public health crisis and launched a new public awareness campaign at the Utah Department of Health in Salt Lake City.
Aptly titled "Stop the Opidemic", the campaign is aimed at educating Utah residents on the real dangers of both prescription and illicit opioids, the signs and symptoms of an opioid-related overdose as well as the tremendous importance of keeping the opioid overdose reversal medicine naloxone (Narcan) close whenever opioids are being used or suspected of being used in the home or elsewhere.
Amber Baum is one of thousands of Utahns who lost a loved family member or friend to a heroin overdose in recent years. Her 22-year old daughter McKenzie Baum passed away at her home in 2013, when the life-saving medication Narcan was available only by prescription. Naloxone kits became widely available across the state after the 2014 legislature H.B. 119 ( The Emergency Administration of Opiate Antagonist Act) allowed pharmacists in Utah to dispense Narcan without a prior prescription.
Taylorsville resident Celeste Cecchini wishes she had the naloxone kit on hand when she found her 33-year old son, Tennyson Cecchini, overdosed on the bathroom in May 2015. Celeste and her husband, Dennis Cecchini estimate that Tennyson began using prescription opioids about age 24, after suffering an injury while playing hockey., and shifted to heroin when those prescription pain relievers became too expensive. Dennis Cecchini, who now spends all his time advocating for better ways of handling substance abuse disorders in the medical and public fields, said that people need to realize that an opioid use disorder is an insidious, serious disease requiring serious treatment.
This year, Utah lawmakers are seeking various changes in an effort to effectively continue the fight against the opidemic sweeping the state. Rep. Raymond Ward has proposed H.B. 50 ( Opioid Prescribing Regulations) as well as H. B. 90 ( Insurance Opioid Regulation), a bill that requires Utah Medicaid program, commercial insurers, public employee insurers and workers' compensation insurers to implement specific policies that minimize the risk of prescribing controlled substances. Other changes that could be part of the solution to this public health crisis in Utah include liability relief for those who administer Narcan when experiencing an opioid-related overdose event, the addition of new controlled substances to a statewide database in order to better enforce their use.
Dr. Erik Christensen, Utah Department of Health's chief medical examiner encourages Utah's to take action, do their part to halt the epidemic and make a big difference - by steering clear of opioids and asking their doctor about safer alternatives to pain management, avoiding taking more prescription opiate pills than necessary, never sharing their prescription painkillers, properly disposing of unused pills, reaching out to friends and family members who may be struggling with an opioid use disorder and keeping the life-saving Narcan kit close, just in case someone's life may be at risk.