So it has come to this.
A new report released by the state last week ranks Tooele County as the leader in opioid-related deaths per capita in Utah. The Opioid Misuse and Abuse Needs Assessment shows the county had 39 opioid deaths during 2014 and 2015 per 100,000 population.
Next on the list was the Four Corners Health District with 33.92 deaths, followed by Wasatch County with 28.63 and 24.68 for Salt Lake County.
The report, which was compiled by the Utah Department of Human Services, Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health, is both revelatory and disturbing. The revelation? Perhaps for the first time, a more concrete number about Tooele County citizens’ dangerous misuse of opioids has become more clear. Until last week, that number, according to the Utah Department of Health, was eight during 2015.
Amy Bate, public information officer with the Tooele County Health Department, said the new report represents a “first time” in which specific data on opioid deaths and emergency room encounters in the county have been seen.
And what makes the report disturbing, other than our county tops the list for opioid-related deaths? Perhaps Jeff Coombs, director of the Tooele County Health Department, said it best: “The dangers of opioids are clear — drug tolerance, physical dependency, addiction, abuse, overdose and death…” Regrettably, too many of our citizens today are experiencing the indignity and personal ruin those words describe.
So what is being done to stem the tide of local opioid abuse and deaths? Last Thursday’s story also reported the county health department has received a $190,000 grant to “prevent/reduce opioid misuse, reduce overdose deaths, expand access to evidence-based treatment and promote recovery.”
It is hoped those efforts are successful. But if the county health department doesn’t determine first why so many residents are in the opioid abuse cycle — what is driving their behavior, or underlying causes and contributors — the grant’s effectiveness may not be fully realized.
In addition to the local health department’s work to reduce opioid problems in the county, citizens can take their own proactive steps to help. Opidemic.org lists six items citizens can do to reduce opioid abuse:
• Steer clear of unused medications. Don’t keep leftover pills you don’t need.
• Avoid taking more than needed. Opioids aren’t like antibiotics. You do not need to finish your prescription.
• Never share painkillers. By sharing your prescription, you may think you are helping out, but you could be leading someone down a dangerous path.
• Get rid of unused medications. Don’t keep leftover pills you don’t need.
• Reach out. Addiction is a disease that needs treatment.
• Carry Naloxone. If you or someone you know is taking opioids, their life is at risk. Keep Naloxone close and know the signs of someone having an overdose.
Those signs include small, pinpoint pupils; blue/purple fingernails and lips; they won’t wake up and their body is limp; shallow or stopped breathing; faint heartbeat; and a gurgling, choking noise.
Last week’s editorial was also about opioids and a call for community action to help make a difference. That call is fervently placed again today. For more information about opioid abuse prevention, see opidemic.org.