Last year, Utah lost almost as many people to drug overdoses as the number of people who live in the town of Corinne in Box Elder County. Six hundred and thirty-five to be exact.
The new data was part of a grim report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday that finds American life expectancy dropped for a second straight year, a result of a spike in opioid deaths.
Deaths resulting from fentanyl and other synthetic opiates now account for nearly two-thirds of all drug overdoses in the country. Nearly 42,000 people died from opioids in 2016, a 28 percent surge from the previous year.
Overall, Utah ranked 20th in the rate of drug-overdose deaths in 2016 — about 22.3 deaths per 100,000 people. Utah is one of 22 states with an overdose rate higher than the national average.
The crisis is causing more local and state officials, like House Speaker Greg Hughes, to take a harder look at opioid makers.
“I think that the marketing messages that the opioid manufactures sent to physicians and the public that these are not addictive drugs, that these could be used safely for long-term use — laughable when we look now at marketing statements that were made," he said in an interview this week.
Hughes said he wants counties and the state of Utah to litigate these manufacturers. Some counties, like Salt Lake and Utah County, have already announced plans to do so.
Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes has not yet pursued litigation. But on KSL’s Doug Wright Show Thursday, Reyes said Utah had joined 40 other states in issuing subpoenas to manufacturers and distributors about the marketing and sale of opioids.
The civil investigation could result in a large global settlement. Reyes said it would be “premature” to file a lawsuit before they finish the probe, but are ready to do so if pharmaceutical companies stop cooperating.
“We’re talking real settlement terms with them," he said. "If they don’t put numbers in front of us, at the end of the day, that we feel are acceptable, we don’t have to participate in that, and we could pull the trigger and file the lawsuit.”