No one can say Tooele County citizens and local leaders aren’t choosing to fight back against the area’s opioid addiction problem.
Last year, public information town hall meetings were held for citizens to learn about the dangers of opioid use, and how to save friends, loved ones — and even strangers — from an overdose and death.
And on March 25, the Tooele County Commission filed a lawsuit against Big Pharma that claims opioid manufacturers and distributors caused the county’s opioid addiction problem through misinformation, false claims and false marketing to both doctors and the public about the long-term use of the drugs.
The lawsuit, which we hailed in last week’s editorial as a worthwhile fight, isn’t overblown or ridiculous. A state report released last May ranks Tooele County as Utah’s leader in opioid-related deaths per capita with 39 during 2014-15.
Such local, affirmative pushback continued on April 5 with another public town hall meeting at Clarke N. Johnsen Junior High School. As reported in last Tuesday’s edition, about 100 citizens attended and heard an important message from a state expert on opioid abuse.
Craig PoVey, prevention administrator for the State of Utah – Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health, told the audience that several years ago, doctors were told the latest technology was to use opioids to eliminate pain, and that opioids wouldn’t be addictive.
But the results say otherwise. PoVey said 7,000 prescriptions for pain pills are given every day in Utah, and 24 people are dying in the state every month from opioids. He stressed that in Utah last year, accidental overdoses of prescription pain medications “killed more people than automobile accidents” and that “there are a lot of people who are making a whole lot of money” from opioid prescriptions.
To fight back, PoVey said it’s important for people to keep close track of prescription medications they have at home. Opioid use should be a rare alternative for managing pain, and prescribed only for two or three days to help people avoid addiction, he said.
Those messages are evidently taking root with encouraging results: According to PoVey, 78 percent of Utahns are now talking to their doctors about alternatives for managing pain. He said research shows early-prevention programs in communities help thwart drug abuse problems, and Tooele County is doing a “very nice job” of bringing such programs to local citizens.
But PoVey shared another message that was perhaps the most important of all during the town hall meeting. He said treatments work for those who are hooked on opioids, and indicated that relapses aren’t a sign of weakness or failure.
“We’ve just got to figure out how to get people in there, and help them and support them to continue treatment even when they have a relapse,” he said. “Relapses are part of the process. They have to stick with it.”
When it comes to fighting opioid addiction, local citizens and leaders are urged to “stick with it,” even though positive results will require hard work and time. Just like the county’s lawsuit against Big Pharma, it’s a worthwhile fight — and one that can’t be ignored.