We have published several editorials this year on Tooele County’s well-known opioid abuse problem. Many more will be written, too, because it appears the local war against opioid addiction is expanding, yet won’t easily be won.
As reported on the front page of last Thursday’s edition, a recent study concluded that opioid and heroin use in Tooele County remains a critical health crisis and there is a significant need to develop programs to intervene.
Furthermore, statistics show that Utah ranks fourth in the nation in the percentage of opioid deaths, and Tooele County ranks third in the state in percentage of overdose deaths. The rate of opioid deaths in Tooele County is 33.6 per 100,000 people. That is higher than the state average of 22.29 per 100,000 people. For comparison, the 2016 national average was 19 per 100,000 people.
Such numbers are staggering and it appears little is being done locally about it. But there is growing momentum in the county to hopefully swing the pendulum the other way. Several information town hall meetings have been 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.
Last March, 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.
Then last September, local government, law enforcement and healthcare officials announced a new initiative to increase opioid awareness in the county. Called “Speak Out, Opt Out and Throw Out Opioids,” the initiative’s premise is that opioid medications are safe if they are used carefully and as prescribed by a doctor, but there are non-opioid medications that can be used instead.
And during a Tooele County Board of Health meeting last Tuesday, it was announced the county health department had received a $35,000 grant from the state to develop a plan to deal with the crisis. As part of a 2018 Opioid Crisis Cooperative, the health department will undergo more opioid overdose preparedness training and provide more prevention preparedness programs.
The work also entails developing an opioid crisis response plan that includes more Naloxone training and awareness programs for first responders, pharmacists and others. Naloxone is a medication designed to rapidly reverse opioid overdose. It can quickly restore normal respiration to a person whose breathing has slowed or stopped as a result of overdosing on heroin or prescription opioid pain medications, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse.
There has been progress when it comes to the fight against opioid abuse in the county, and it appears there will be even more with the health department developing a response plan with the state. But as we’ve said before, local efforts to reduce opioid abuse have to transcend best intentions — and studies and plans — and become direct action.
Too many of our citizens today are experiencing the indignity, personal ruin and grief caused by opioid abuse. The fight to save them is worth every scar.