Editor’s note: “A Better Life” is a weekly column by the USU Extension – Tooele Office that focuses on a variety of topics intended to enhance quality of life.
The opioid epidemic has reached a new, critical stage — the stage of litigation and court settlements. As of last month, two large drug firms settled cases with payouts of $250 million to two Ohio counties.
At the same time, a much larger deal involving 3,000 U.S. cities and counties, including some in Utah, is being negotiated with a proposed $48 billion settlement from the multiple drug companies involved.
As recently as September and despite a bankruptcy filing, Utah’s attorney general (AG) issued a statement proposing a settlement from Purdue Pharma from the sale of OxyContin and the proposed damages that resulted. Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes was quoted in the Salt Lake Tribune: “Purdue was morally bankrupt and now it is legally so.”
This step toward litigation is one more attempt to move the needle on one of the most deadly epidemics in the nation’s history, and sadly, in Utah as well. More Americans died from a drug overdose in 2017 than died during all of the Vietnam War. The Asian Flu in the 1950s took 70,000 lives over multiple years of the epidemic while over 70,000 people died in a single year from drug overdoses. Americans, including local and state governments, are looking for solutions and the money to fund them.
Tooele County is just as actively engaged in new solutions. Mountain West Medical Center’s Emergency Department has implemented new strategies to help patients manage acute withdrawal symptoms and to obtain ongoing treatment and therapy in the community. These measures serve as a bridge by filling a treatment gap and then connecting the person struggling with opioids to the treatment they need.
As of November 2019, Tooele County has one more tool in the opioid epidemic fight. Mike Austin, licensed clinical social worker, has joined USU Extension’s health and wellness faculty in bringing more programming and coordination of services to Tooele.
His official title is Opioid Consortium Clinical Coordinator, but you can just call him the opioid specialist. He is intimately familiar with the harms of opioid addiction. Prior to accepting this position locally, he provided counseling at a medication assisted treatment program in Salt Lake City. He has now joined the USU Extension team to bring his skill set to the Tooele population.
Mike is a Grantsville resident, a regular guy with a dog, two cats, and a family, and someone who cares deeply about the community. USU Extension welcomes Mike and invites the community to get to know him. Stop by the Extension offices on Main Street, share your stories, and offer ideas on how to end the opioid epidemic in Tooele.
You can reach Mike at 435-277-2403 or email@example.com. By working together, perhaps Tooele can help lead Utah out of the struggle, toward the next stage — healing.
Maren Wright Voss, ScD, is a professional practice extension assistant professor of health and wellness at the USU Extension – Tooele County Office, which is located inside the Tooele County Health Department Building, 151 N. Main, Tooele. She can be reached at 435-277-2409 and at firstname.lastname@example.org.