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Utah Legislature: Funds sought to aid drug addiction recovery

Supporters of Utah's Drug Offender Reform Act hold a rally during the Legislature at the Utah State Capitol Tuesday.
Supporters of Utah's Drug Offender Reform Act hold a rally during the Legislature at the Utah State Capitol Tuesday.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — If the state really wants to counter the growing use of prescription drugs, it should promote programs that help people recover as eagerly as legislators approve bills to send people caught using them illegally to jail.

That's what a few lawmakers and area addiction therapy experts believe who on Wednesday formally asked the public and the Legislature to do more to treat addiction as a health problem than a crime.

"Opia-phobia," or the widespread and growing fear among physicians and lawmakers here and nationwide that the use and abuse of opiate-based prescription pain medication is running rampant, needs to be countered by a more reasoned and even compassionate help for people who become addicted.

"Nine times out of 10, a prescription painkiller will be prescribed and taken exactly as it should be," Dr. Kevin McCauley, a Sandy-based addiction treatment specialist, said Wednesday after he and a group of lawmakers publicly urged the Legislature's top budget committee to spend $3 million on the financially strapped, therapy-based state Drug Offender Recovery Act (DORA).

The program approved in 2007 is a successful but withering option in the effort to control controlled substances in Utah. It has saved at least $2 million by helping people recover rather than simply turning them over to the purview and the increased expense of the courts, said Robert Walton, speaking for area drug therapist and counselors.

McCauley said he fully supports legislation proposed this session that increases the tracking of prescription pain medications, both doctors who prescribe them and patients who receive them.

"And the punitive portion of the approach is key as well," he said. "But the pendulum in this issue may have swung too far that way at the same time that therapy has become remarkably successful."

Utah is prime cultural terrain for the most successful form of recovery to really take root — a strong and abiding belief in and an inclination to provide family member support, he said.

"The worry over people becoming addicted is legitimate," McCauley said. "There will always be a segment of the patient population that does. But the public and public officials need to also understand that there is a growing segment within that group who recover and get back to life. It happens every day."

e-mail: jthalman@desnews.com