Utah’s rate of deaths from drug overdose in 2016 dropped slightly, but residents are still dying at a rate that’s higher than the national average, according to a new federal report released this week.
There were 635 deaths caused by drug overdose in Utah last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That was actually a slight dip after at least three consecutive years of rising overdose deaths, according to the report and past reports.
While slightly fewer people died of drug overdose in Utah last year, this year’s report shows there is a continuing upward trend nationally over the past two decades, when the rate of overdose deaths has tripled. Nineteen other states had higher overdose death rates in 2016 than Utah’s, which was 22.3 for every 100,000 people, the report said. The nationwide rate was 19.8 per 100,000.
The state Department of Health hasn’t yet compared the new report to its own data, but the state has seen a sharp increase in opioid deaths since 2000.
“We’re seeing a decrease in our prescription opioid deaths,” said Anna Fondario, epidemiology manager at the Department of Health. “But in our illicit opioid deaths, we are seeing increases.”
The nation saw its rate of deaths caused by synthetic opioids double, from 3.1 per every 100,000 people to 6.2 per 100,000, according to the CDC report.
The grim news came as local governments across the nation line up for a legal war with the pharmaceutical industry over what some say were misleading tactics for marketing and selling the addictive and deadly opioids that have ravaged their communities.
Utah’s top prescription opioid killer in 2015, according to state data, was Oxycodone.
At least six Utah counties, including those with the highest rate of overdose deaths, have taken steps to bring a lawsuit against the pharmaceutical industry. State leaders are hoping more will follow suit.
“If we have 29 counties say we’re ready to do something about this, that would be very good news,” House Speaker Greg Hughes said Thursday. “It would be a very powerful statement.”