In 1984, Alema Harrington was a running back on the Brigham Young University football team. When he got injured, team doctors provided him with Percocet and he was hooked. Over time, he found himself snorting crushed Oxycontin and “graduating” to heroin. Now in recovery, he is one of the 80 percent of heroin users who started with legally prescribed opioids.
Tenneson was also an athlete, a hockey player. He was prescribed opiates for a shoulder injury, which progressed quickly to a heroin addiction. He died at 33 from an overdose.
Dane Olsen was in an ATV accident at age 17 that crushed his leg. Following multiple surgeries, his leg eventually healed but during that time, Dane became addicted to OxyContin. After a friend died from a heroin overdose, Dane was shocked into getting help. He completed a treatment program but then he relapsed and died of an overdose shortly before Thanksgiving 2014.
Peter started with marijuana, then went to Lortab and any other opioid he could get his hands on, including stealing from family, from friends who had just had a baby and then emptying his savings account so he could buy pills on the street. He was fortunate to get intervention and treatment before his addition became fatal.
In Utah, more people die of prescription opioid overdoses than all other drugs combined. The rate of overdose deaths in Utah is higher than car accidents and firearm deaths. We also have the nation’s highest rate of drug overdose deaths for our veterans.
Nationally, somebody dies from an opioid overdose every 12 minutes. There has been a 500 percent increase in heroin-related overdose deaths just from 2010 to 2016 and deaths from all opioid overdoses has quadrupled.
The opioid crisis costs this nation in lives, in lost potential and in dollars. Late last year, the Council of Economic Advisors (CEA) released a report on the economic costs: an estimated $504 billion in 2015 alone. That equals 2.8 percent the nations entire GDP that year.
It is in the face of this epidemic that Utah Sen. Mike Lee, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, the DEA 360 Program, the Mark Wahlberg Youth Foundation, The Sutherland Institute, the Utah Opioid Task Force, the Salt Lake Chamber and others have partnered to bring the Utah Solutions Summit: Instead to the Vivint Smart Home Arena this Friday, October 12.
This year’s summit is intended to give those who deal most directly with the problems caused by opioid misuse and addiction the opportunity to connect and convene with a shared mission to explore greater options, help, hope, and healing. Opioid misuse and abuse cuts across all segments of our society. It is an equal-opportunity snare, from our youth to our elderly, rich and poor. It knows no racial bounds, no geographic borders and no religious exemptions.
Half of the day will be focused on youth and their role in combatting this epidemic. In the morning, the Instead Youth Summit will include a special screening of If Only, a short film co-produced by James Wahlberg. Presentations will include education about the dangers of opioids, healthy lifestyles, helping and encouraging peers and utilizing technology as one of the tools in this fight.
Speakers in the afternoon include J.D. Vance, author of the number one New York Times bestseller, Hillbilly Elegy; Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute; Dr. Brian Shiozawa, former Utah state senator and now Region 8 director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; MMA fighter Court McGee and Dr. Jennifer Plumb, cofounder of Utah Naloxone.
To help overcome stigma and shame, educate and empower people and take down silos preventing cohesive collaboration from all stakeholders, we need all hands on deck.
As Plumb said: “People cannot get better if they’re dead.”
See you Friday.
Holly Richardson, a Salt Lake Tribune regular contributor, is committed to engaging in this fight. Lives are at stake.