A recent study concluded that the use of opioids and heroin in Tooele County remains a critical health crisis and the need to develop programs to battle the crisis is significant.
Researchers spent a combined 200 hours interviewing active users, former users and family members of users in a study on opioid and heroin abuse in the county. They presented their findings during a lunch and learn session Wednesday at the Tooele County Health Department.
The study was conducted by intern and lead researcher Mikayla Holt of Westminster College and Hillary Bryan, health educator for the Tooele County Health Department. Dr. John Contreras, director of the Master of Public Health program at Westminster, also helped with the study.
The team presented questionnaires and interviewed 10 active users, eight former users and seven family members of users for a total of 25 interviews.
It was discovered that being sent to jail was the most effective intervention in Tooele County for people seeking to stop their own opioid or heroin addiction. Research showed that because there are no drug treatment detox facilities in the county, being confined in jail was the only recourse for users.
“We learned that people needed to stay in jail for at least three months for intervention,” Holt said.
Statistics show that Utah ranks fourth in the nation in the percentage of opioid overdose deaths, and Tooele County ranks third in the state in percentage of overdose deaths.
The presenters cited statistics that showed that drug overdose is currently the leading cause of accidental death in the United States. Opioids are leading this epidemic, with 20,101 overdose deaths caused by prescription medication, and 12,990 overdose deaths caused by heroin in 2015.
Over 115 people die daily in the United States due to opioid overdose. From 2000 to 2009, prescription opioid death rates increased nearly fivefold.
The rate of opioid deaths in Tooele County is 33.96 per 100,000 people. This is higher than the state average, which is 22.29 per 100,000 people. In 2016 the national average was 19 per 100,000 people.
The researchers found people to participate in the study through the Utah Harm Reduction Coalition, Valley Behavioral Health and community canvassing.
Cumulative results of the study showed that 88 percent started using opioids due to pain, surgery or an injury with 12 percent starting out using heroin.
Conclusions showed that Naloxone was only effective if people are in the right place at the right time and know how to use it.
Holt said most people will give a user a cold shower during an overdose as initial treatment, and that more education is needed to help people know how to use Naloxone to treat an overdose.
Jeff Coombs, executive director of the Tooele County Health Department, said the situation could get worse.
“Opioid addiction is starting to trend downward in Tooele County, but heroin use is going up,” he said.
“Those already addicted to opioids can’t be just cut off. They will do anything for that next high so they turn to heroin,” he said.
“Now they are turning to a synthetic opioid fentanyl, which is 10 times more powerful than heroin, and heroin is four times more potent than prescription opioids,” Coombs said.
He said another drug emerging is carfentanil, which is 100 times more potent than fentanyl and is used as an elephant tranquilizer.
He said these potent drugs will lead to more deaths.
Coombs said the county is working with the state to get more specific data about opioid and heroin use in communities within the state.
“We’re trying to improve the data we receive from hospitals,” he said.
He said another factor contributing to the over prescription of opioid painkillers is the rating system for doctors.
He said patients evaluate doctors according to their ability to relieve pain so doctors are pressured to overprescribe opioids to get a higher rating from their patients.