ST. GEORGE — As opioid overdose deaths continue to rise nationally, a program launched earlier this year in Utah has helped save the lives of 46 overdose patients.
The opiate overdose outreach pilot program, which was funded by the state Legislature, aims to reduce the number of opioid overdose deaths in the state by utilizing the opiate-overdose antidote drug naloxone with the help of law enforcement agencies, local health departments and other agencies.
The Utah Department of Health awarded more than $230,000 in grant money to 32 agencies to purchase and distribute naloxone kits and provide training on the proper administration of naloxone for individuals who are at risk for an opiate-related drug overdose event, as well as their family or friends.
Naloxone is a safe drug that can reverse heroin and prescription opioid overdoses by blocking the effects of those on the brain and restoring breathing in minutes.
Agencies participated on a voluntary basis to implement the initiative in their communities, including several organizations in Southern Utah.
“It was great of them to recognize that need and jump on that opportunity,” Utah Department of Heath spokesperson Angela Stander said of the Southern Utah agencies who participated, including Enoch City Police Department, Iron/Garfield/Beaver Counties Narcotics Task Force, Southwest Behavioral Health Center and Brookstone Medical Center in St. George.
“Everyone had a unique approach as to how they disseminated it,” Stander said of the program’s participating agencies.
Some of the dissemination methods include working through direct-care services, outreach to families dealing with addiction and training through law enforcement agencies.
The program’s results from Jan. 1 to June 30 showed:
- $236,037 in grant money was awarded to 17 law enforcement agencies, six local health departments and nine direct service agencies.
- 3,111 naloxone kits were purchased.
- 1,967 naloxone kits were distributed.
- 1,599 individuals received a naloxone kit.
- 46 opioid overdose reversals were reported.
An additional 25 lives were helped to be saved thanks to the efforts of several agencies which did not receive funding through the pilot program but participated in naloxone distribution efforts.
“We are very appreciative of the efforts by the Utah state Legislature to address the opioid crisis in our state,” Joseph Miner, executive director of the Utah Department of Health, said. “The funding for the pilot program has been critical to ensuring access to naloxone for those at greatest risk of an overdose. Providing naloxone may mean the difference between life and death for those struggling with opioid addiction.”
Overdosing in Utah
- Utah has the seventh highest drug overdose rate in the U.S.
- Eighty percent of heroin users started with prescription opioids, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, fentanyl and morphine.
- Six people die every week in Utah from opioid overdose.
While the number of prescription opioid overdose deaths decreased 12.4 percent from 2015’s 274 deaths to 2016’s 240 deaths, the number of heroin overdose deaths increased by 15.5 percent with 129 deaths in 2015 and 149 deaths in 2016. Together, a 2 percent decrease in the number of overall opioid-related deaths was observed from 414 in 2015 to 406 in 2016.
“We still have a long way to go in solving the issues around misuse, abuse and overdose from opioids, but we are making progress,” Stander said. “We have great support with partners at the state and local level as well as in the healthcare and private sectors.”
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