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Drug Poisoning Deaths Remain Huge Problem in Utah

Flickr: Sharyn Morrow

Utah ranks 5th in the nation for drug-poisoning deaths, according to data released this week by the Utah Department of Health. Many of those deaths are caused by opioids. But some say that could be changed with better access to treatment.

The health department data shows that drug poisoning is the leading cause of injury deaths in Utah, ahead of firearms, falls, and motor vehicle crashes.  Every month, 49 Utahns die as a result of drug poisoning. 82 percent of those deaths are accidental or of undetermined intent. Of these, 75 percent involve opioids such as heroin or pain medications like oxycodone, methadone, or hydrocodone. Mary Jo Mcmillan is Executive Director of Utah Support Advocates for Recovery Awareness, known as USARA. She says Utah has a problem with heroin and prescription drug abuse, and those who are addicted need help.

“With opiate dependence and heroin, it just doesn’t stop without treatment, people don’t quit by themselves. I actually think it’s easier to access heroin than it is help,” she says.

McMillan says better access to treatment could prevent deaths.  

“In Salt Lake County, we still have probably 90 to 120 day waiting list just to get into treatment services, and for somebody who is addicted to heroin, that is a critical issue.”

On Saturday, USARA is hosting a community celebration in downtown. McMillan says thousands of Utahns are in long term recovery from drug addiction, and she says they are only able to do that with the support of their community.

“One of the challenges is so many people feel ashamed or afraid of the consequences if they speak out about it, and it’s important that we all speak out about it, because really many of us know someone who has an addiction problem,” she says.

The festivities begin at 8:30 Saturday morning at Gallivan Center, beginning with a 5K walk or run for recovery and ending with a party in the evening. Exhibitors will offer information about addiction prevention, treatment and recovery.

Andrea Smardon is new at KUER, but she has worked in public broadcasting for more than a decade. Most recently, she worked as a reporter and news announcer for WGBH radio. While in Boston, she produced stories for Morning Edition, Marketplace Money, and The World. Her print work was published in The Boston Globe and Prior to that, she worked at Seattleââ
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