Heroin and prescription opioid overdose deaths decline in Utah

SALT LAKE CITY — On Monday, Lt. Governor Spencer J. Cox and leaders from several of Utah’s executive agencies announced that for the first time in six years, the state of Utah experienced a decrease in heroin-related overdose deaths (2017). Additionally, data was released showing that the number of prescription opioid overdose deaths declined for the third consecutive year. Utah was one of only nine states nationwide to observe a decrease in opioid overdose deaths from 2016 to 2017.

Still, 360 people died of an opioid-related overdose death in Utah during 2017. Prescription opioids were involved in 237 of these deaths, and heroin was involved in 159 (note: 36 deaths involved both heroin and a prescription opioid; they are counted once separately in each category, and just once in the overall number of opioid overdose deaths. This is why the total number of deaths is less than the sum of Rx+heroin). The numbers represent a 19.8 percent decrease in overall opioid-related deaths from 2016 to 2017. Prescription opioid deaths decreased by 16 percent, and heroin deaths decreased by 14.5 percent over the same timeframe.

“While it’s certainly encouraging to see these numbers headed in the right direction, the number of deaths associated with opioids and deaths of despair in our state is staggering,” said Lt. Governor Spencer Cox. “The sad fact that 360 families are struggling with the loss of a loved one due, at least in part, to opioids is cause for all of us to remain committed to putting a stop to this terrible epidemic.”

To help ensure Utah’s positive momentum is maintained for years to come, Lt. Governor Cox announced he has accepted the position as chairperson of the Utah Coalition for Opioid Overdose Prevention (UCO-OP). UCO-OP is a multi-disciplinary collaboration of more than 60 experts in the fields of substance abuse prevention and treatment, law enforcement, environmental quality, healthcare, and public health.

The Utah Departments of Health, Commerce, Public Safety, and Human Services are engaged in several new efforts to help combat the opioid epidemic, including:

  • The Utah Department of Health has received a $3.2 million grant from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention that will establish near real-time monitoring and reporting of opioid overdose events. These data will provide public health agencies throughout Utah with a more comprehensive and timely picture of how the opioid epidemic is impacting their communities, allowing them to target interventions more effectively.
  • The Utah Department of Commerce has overhauled the Controlled Substance Database with new enhancements. A new patient dashboard gives prescribers and dispensers four quick patient alerts when a potential problem exists with a patient, and a prescriber dashboard will be released for prescribers to assess and compare their prescribing behavior.
  • The Utah Department of Human Services has provided grants to local communities to implement evidence-based prevention activities, has provided resources to train and equip first responders with naloxone, and this year has opened three new Medication Assisted Treatment programs.
  • The Utah Department of Public Safety has established partnerships with federal, state, and local agencies to create the Drug Monitoring Initiative. The initiative is currently focused on developing an early warning capability for emerging drug threats within the state of Utah.

Governor Gary R. Herbert also signed a declaration pronouncing Oct. 1-7 as Prescription Opioid and Heroin Epidemic Awareness Week in Utah.

For more information on these and other statewide efforts to address the opioid epidemic, as well as for finding resources for those who may need assistance with opioid use, visit https://opidemic.org or https://ucoop.utah.gov.


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