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Utah Community Advocates Point To Possible Rise In Opioid Overdoses

Hand and small glass dose of naloxone.
Kelsie Moore
Utah’s opioid epidemic isn’t over, but Utah Naloxone medical director Jennifer Plumb said the state needs to refocus on preventing opioid deaths, and that there still isn’t enough data to know the scope of the problem here.

While the coronavirus pandemic continues, Utah Naloxone medical director Dr. Jennifer Plumb wants to send a reminder that people in the state are still dying from opioids.

“This crisis has been going on for decades and is not getting better. “It’s a little bit unfortunate that systems — and I’m not criticizing our system, in specific — but systems are not capable of caring about more than one thing,” Plumb said. Her organization conducts trainings statewide on the overdose rescue medication Naloxone and distributes free Naloxone kits throughout communities.

Data from the Utah Coalition for Opioid Overdose Prevention show a decrease in deaths from 2014 to 2017 for prescription opioids as well as a decrease in heroin overdoses from 2016 to 2017. But Plumb said she’s worried that’s not the case anymore.

“Right now, a refocusing, some data collection and some honesty about where we are is really needed,” she said. “I know that our public health entities are very taxed, but there needs to be a refocusing because this has not gone away just because there’s another pandemic.”

She said national 911 call data show a rise in requests for emergency overdose responses, and that anecdotal accounts from local community organizations also supports that.

Mindy Vincent, executive director of the Utah Harm Reduction Coalition, said with the isolation and loneliness many people are experiencing, she understands why there might be an increase in substance misuse and overdoses.

“As someone who has recovered from a substance-use disorder myself, during this time I have had to be hyper aware of when I’m ingesting any substance and why that is,” Vincent said.

A group called Overdose Awareness Utah planned to host a memorial Monday at 7 p.m. at the State Capitol building, in honor of International Overdose Awareness Day.

If you or someone you know needs help with addiction, Utah has recovery resources available online. Naloxone rescue kits are available at

Emily Means is a government and politics reporter at KUER.
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