Utah has seen a dramatic drop in drug-related deaths recently, including those from opioid abuse, but that is no reason to let up on efforts that could keep the numbers declining further.
Opioid deaths were up last year nationwide. Too many lives are being sacrificed to a scourge that has varied and complicated causes and facets.
But the answers to this nationwide scourge must be local in nature, in order to be effective. That’s why the Utah Opioid Task Force, including government, medical and law-enforcement professionals, has seen success. The same holds for groups such as the Utah Coalition for Opioid Overdose Prevention and the Other Side Academy.
Also, Utah Naloxone has distributed more than 60,000 doses of the opioid overdose-reversal drug since July 2015, saving more than 2,300 lives. And Intermountain Healthcare has worked to limit opioid drugs prescribed as painkillers within the state.
Solutions require concerted efforts by people with the power to effect change, as well as widespread public education and awareness.
That’s why the Utah Solutions Summit, held Friday in the Vivint Smart Home Arena, is so important. This year, the summit will feature American Enterprise Institute president and New York Times columnist Arthur Brooks, as well as actor Mark Wahlberg, whose youth foundation has made the fight against opioid addiction an emphasis.
Another co-sponsor is Utah Sen. Mike Lee, who recently helped pass a bill strengthening the ability of customs and border patrol agents to intercept packages containing illegal drugs.
The summit is an opportunity to learn from experts, as well as to raise awareness and maintain the momentum toward success.
Public education is key. In the current fight over Proposition 2, the medical marijuana initiative, some have argued that legalized marijuana would be an answer to the opioid crisis — a contention with little basis in fact.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Utah saw a 12.2 percent decline in drug overdose deaths from February 2017 to the same time in 2018. That compared to a 9 percent increase in neighboring Colorado and an 11.2 percent increase in Nevada, two states that have legalized marijuana.
Answers are not so simple, but they must include multiple segments of society, from doctors to law enforcement, politicians, clergy, caregivers, parents and friends.
Utahns have a way of coming together to attack common problems. This is one that is no respecter of race, income level or age. In fact, senior citizens represent a demographic with some of the fastest growing levels of opioid abuse.
Friday’s summit is a big tool to help in this fight, but it is just one of many that, collectively, is working to reduce overdose deaths in Utah.