Utah’s Legislature ended its recent session with small efforts to curb Utah’s addiction to opioids. They passed a bill requiring labels on pill containers to warn about overdoses and addiction. The bill also requires the Department of Health to create an educational pamphlet.
The legislation also mandates that doctors double-check state databases for patients at risk, and the state will check for doctors who oversubscribe.
The Legislature legalized medical marijuana, but only for terminally ill patients. So people with chronic pain who use opioids for relief will find little relief from the Legislature’s meager effort.
Utahns in pain need more than labels and pamphlets.
From 2013 to 2015, Utah ranked seventh in the nation for drug overdose deaths. In 2015 that meant 24 people overdosing each month; more than 400 total in 2016.
We argued in December that the best opioid policy will be built around reducing demand, not supply.
A new awareness campaign in Utah County – Speak out. Opt out. Throw out. – hopes to reduce demand by helping people avoid addiction.
Pharmacies across the state are joining the effort to curb addiction by giving out doses of the overdose treatment drug naloxone. In 2016 the Utah Department of Health issued a standing order allowing pharmacists to distribute the drug without a prescription. The drug can reverse an overdose minutes after it occurs.
In 2017, pharmacies across Utah gave out 4,275 doses of naloxone. But only 165 pharmacies, out of more than 800 in the state, have signed up for the program. And rural pharmacies only account for 30 percent of those enrollments.
That’s not good for Utah’s rural communities, who are also seeing opiate addictions rise. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is planning to host roundtable discussions on how opioids are affecting rural communities on April 11 at the Capitol.
The USDA thinks the problem is so bad that it isn’t an opiate problem any longer, it is “a matter of rural prosperity.” Salt Lake Tribune reporter Luke Ramseth wrote that the agency believes “opioid addiction is hurting worker productivity, burdening the resources of rural hospitals and straining the workloads of emergency responders and police agencies.”
Addiction is also affecting economic development. It would be a shame if Gov. Herbert’s 25K Jobs initiative succeeded in bringing jobs to rural areas only to find populations too addicted to take advantage of them.
It’s good that the state doesn’t need to wait for the Legislature to fix the opioid addiction problem.
Because we don’t have that kind of time.