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County Council Takes on Opioid Crisis

Sep 29, 2016 02:57PM ● Published by Bryan Scott

By Steven L. DeBry


As your County Councilman, I appreciate the responsibility that comes with serving our community. No subject is of greater concern to our state right now than opioid abuse and overdose deaths. The problem is pervasive, prevalent, and devastating.

While deaths from firearms and vehicle accidents receive far more attention from our media, overdose deaths occur with more frequency. We rank 4th in the nation for prescription overdose deaths per 100,000 population. Most of those prescription overdose deaths come from Opioids, which are pain pills like Oxycodone (often called Oxycontin or Percocet), Fentanyl, and Hydrocodone (Vicodin). Overdoses from heroin also continue to rise.

We cannot build enough prisons to jail our way out of this problem, and jailing those in need of treatment without sufficient recovery resources kicks the can down the road. We have to have a comprehensive set of solutions developed, and I am committed to developing those at the County Council.

Councilmember Jenny Wilson and I co-sponsored a roundtable at the County Council to coordinate efforts on this critical public health issue. We heard from healthcare providers, public health experts, insurance companies, state leaders, our District Attorney and Sheriff, and from people who recovered from substance use disorders.

Let me share with you a few things the County Council learned from this roundtable:

• Addiction to Opioids can take just 1 week.

• Since 1999, the rate of deaths from drug overdose in Utah doubled. 

• In Salt Lake County, that increase was 50%. 

• Utah averaged 1 opioid related death each day in 2015.

• One of the most frequent areas for overdoses in the County is in the Southwest Valley. Our community is heavily impacted by this problem.

• In the last 4 years, physicians have prescribed about half as many Opioid pills with each prescription. But it has not appreciably decreased Opioid related deaths. 

• While pills are less readily available on the street, heroin dealers have increased distribution. While Opioid abuse is never safe, heroin is far more dangerous, because it is produced with no quality control or regulation, and is often laced with other drugs in potentially deadly quantities and combinations. 

Our County Jail is full, and that largely stems from crimes associated with drug and alcohol abuse to help fuel habits of people with substance use disorders. As a police officer for 35 years, these trends have been noticeable and alarming. It’s in our neighborhoods.  Addiction can turn decent people into criminals, and rob families of their loved ones. If we can save individuals from the scourge of substance use disorders, we can strengthen families and our community. Eventually that translates to saving tax dollars. 

From our Opioid summit, some solutions have begun to take hold. Finding ways to purchase Naloxone for first responders seems wise. Naloxone is a non-addictive prescription medication that helps to block the effects of opiates on the body. It saves lives of overdose victims when administered quickly after an overdose. Naloxone has been in use by EMTs for more than four decades because it is safe and has no detrimental impact on people who have no opiates in their system.

The County Council will be working with the District Attorney to equip police vehicles throughout the valley with this life-saving drug. We also hope to encourage families to keep Naloxone on hand if they have a family member dealing with a substance use disorder. To find more information on how to obtain Naloxone, visit http://www.utahnaloxone.org/

There is more to be done, and I will keep you updated as we move forward to help address the Opioid Crisis. As always, I welcome your thoughts and ideas. Email me at SLDeBry@slco.org, or call my office at (385) 468-7458. 

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