Utahns support Trump calling opioid crisis a public health emergency as six residents die from overdoses each week

President Donald Trump speaks during an event to declare the opioid crisis a national public health emergency in the East Room of the White House, Thursday, Oct. 26, 2017, in Washington. First lady Melania Trump listens at left. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Washington • Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes was one of three state attorneys general to attend President Donald Trump’s announcement that opioid overdoses is a public health emergency.

Afterward, Reyes said President Donald Trump’s decree was “very welcome” and he hopes it will bring more resources directly to the states most affected by the crisis.

“This is a banner day,” Reyes said in an interview after leaving the White House. “No matter whether you’re new to this issue or you’ve been like many of us fighting it for a long time, there’s nothing but good news in terms of it making people more aware, asking for more help and giving a broad mandate to federal agencies to make this a priority to open up resources to help us all in our individual states and communities.”

Reyes noted that Trump’s order should help not only in the short term to raise awareness and open up more channels for help but in the long term to help stem the epidemic.

Though the abuse of opioids has now become a national crisis, Reyes said the president’s actions didn’t come too late.

“Having now an administrative mandate of presidential priority to push even further a number of initiatives, research, budgeting for this issue — it’s certainly not too late and if we don’t start to take it even more seriously and have more urgency, it’s only going to metastasize,” he said.

Steve Griffin / The Salt Lake Tribune Following the deadline in the state Constitution, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, state Auditor John Dougall and state Treasurer David Damschen take the oath of office in a simple ceremony performed by Utah Supreme Court Justice John A. Pearce. in the State Capitol Gold Room in Salt Lake City Monday January 2, 2017.

Angela Stander, the opioid overdose prevention coordinator with the Utah Department of Health, said Trump’s move will go a long way in helping to alert the public about the epidemic.

“Trump does understand the need for the whole prevention continuum,” she said Thursday. “So not only helping people recover but also educating doctors, helping people not get started on their opioid addiction.”

Utah has the seventh highest drug overdose rate in the nation and six residents die every week from opioid overdose, according to the health department. The state’s southeastern district, particularly Carbon County, is disproportionately impacted with a higher prescription opioid death rate than elsewhere in Utah.

While receiving state funding from 2007 to 2010, Utah saw significant decreases in deaths related to opioids. In the years since that expired, however, those deaths again increased by nearly 27 percent.

While Trump’s order allows funds set aside for other uses to help combat opioid abuse, it doesn’t call for new money. Stander says the declaration will at least put the issue back in the forefront.

“Any more attention is still good attention because that’s going to keep doctors on their toes and keep us as the public remembering that these are dangerous,” she said. “We can’t put it all on doctors to stop prescribing but we as a society need to stop asking for them as well.”

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, a proponent of expanding medical marijuana research as a potential fix for the growing opioid epidemic, commended Trump’s declaration and said he was “sobered” by the action.

“Although this crisis is affecting all states, it has been particularly devastating in my home state of Utah, where dozens of men and women die each month from overdose,” the Republican lawmaker said in a statement. “It’s unfortunate that the situation requires such dire steps as a national public health emergency, but I’m hopeful that this will be a meaningful step to end this epidemic once and for all.”