Continued proactive steps are needed toward helping Tooele County residents who are caught in the web of opioid addiction, to educate those who are not about the drug’s risks, and to get local healthcare providers more involved in those efforts.
Such steps came clearer into focus last Tuesday at Mountain West Medical Center when local government, law enforcement and healthcare officials held a press conference to announce a new initiative to increase opioid awareness across Tooele County.
As reported on the front page of last Thursday’s edition, that new campaign is called “Speak Out, Opt Out and Throw Out Opioids.” The premise behind the campaign was stated well during the press conference by Dr. James Antinori, from Mountain West’s emergency department:
“Opioid medications can be used safely, but they must be used carefully and exactly to what they are prescribed for,” he said. “People need to speak to their doctors about it. There are non-opioid medications that can be used. … We do want to treat a patient’s pain, but we want to do it carefully so as not to create a problem that is bigger than the one we are trying to treat.”
On a broader scale, however, that bigger problem regrettably already exists here — and it is alarming. According to the Tooele County Heath Department, the county ranked sixth in the state for opioid and heroin overdose deaths during 2014-16. And for 2014-15, the county was ranked number one in Utah for opioid-related deaths per capita, according to the health department.
To help boost local awareness about the hazards of opioids, Mountain West has installed large-scale, visual messaging throughout the hospital. A common message is that 7,000 opioid prescriptions are issued daily in Utah, increasing the chance for misuse or abuse.
Some of the messaging is permanent and some of it will be removed in a few months, said Hillary Bryan, health educator and public information officer with the county health department. Furthermore, the county health department has plans to broaden the campaign’s reach within the county.
“We are working on a few projects throughout the community that coincide directly with this opioid campaign,” Bryan said.
Opioid addiction is particularly pernicious, as perhaps best described by Jeff Coombs, Tooele County Health Department director, in a past interview: “The dangers of opioids are clear — drug tolerance, physical dependency, addiction, abuse, overdose and death…”
Too many of our citizens today are experiencing the indignity and personal ruin those words describe. Which is why it’s encouraging and a relief to hear local officials, and our local hospital, make a public commitment to fight back against opioids for the community’s greater good. That commitment now has to transcend best intentions and rhetoric and become direct action.
But perhaps what needs to be done most is already underway.
“There is a shift now in the culture of how we prescribe things,” said Dr. Greg Gardner, also from Mountain West. “There have been several initiatives in how we prescribe narcotics so that we are not prescribing more than is necessary and putting people at risk.”
May that cultural shift continue with greater degrees of success — and fewer residents taking a fall from opioids.