Every week in Utah, six individuals die from opioid overdose. They come from all walks of life, all socioeconomic groups, religions and age groups. They are often mothers who were prescribed drugs after a painful birth or athletes who were taking medication after an injury. These people are our family, our friends and our neighbors — all struggling to keep their lives together.
In October, President Donald Trump announced an emergency declaration for the opioid crisis, which was extended last month. This designation gives federal health agencies the authority to quickly hire more treatment specialists and reallocate money as needed to combat this epidemic. We support this effort, but on its own it is not enough.
There is no silver bullet for this situation. Addressing this catastrophic problem requires targeted efforts. It is critical to provide adequate support and flexibility for state and local community initiatives. Congress has allocated money to states for this purpose, including $6 billion for opioid abuse treatment through the recently passed bipartisan budget deal.
A first step to the opi-demic must be addressing the source of the problem — prescriptions. Though it is not fact, a good way to think about prescription opioid addiction is the following: for every 10 days in a row that someone takes a narcotic as prescribed by a doctor, they have a 10 percent chance of becoming permanently addicted. For every additional day, this percentage hypothetically increases by 1 percent.
Let us be clear. We are not suggesting that a doctor never prescribe an opioid. What we are calling for is a thoughtful and informed approach toward prescribing. In 2017, the Utah Legislature passed a bill limiting the first prescription of this nature to seven days, which can be renewed. Additionally, there is pending legislation in both the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate to limit first prescriptions.
Pain is real. Removing access to opioids without offering legitimate alternatives only pushes patients to stronger and more dangerous street drugs — mainly heroin. A second step must be focusing on pain management options. The National Institute of Health conducts studies on pain management, but ultimately additional funding is needed to increase research into non-opioid solutions. We support innovation in pain management.
As fathers, our sincerest concern goes out to families dealing with the pain and tragedy of opioid addiction. It is time for us all to recognize that it could be our neighbor, our friend or a family member who is struggling with addiction. As legislators, we will continue to work to pass legislation to combat this epidemic. From our federal and state governments to communities across the country, everyone can and must play a role in ending this crisis.