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Health Officials: Extra Prescription Pain Meds Contributing to Overdose Deaths in Utah

Andrea Smardon

New data shows six people die each week in Utah as a result of overdosing on prescription painkillers. A campaign is underway to safely dispose of the drugs that are killing people.

Utah ranks 4th highest in the nation for drug overdose deaths. The latest data from 2014 shows 300 Utahns died from a prescription drug overdose. Opioid painkillers like oxycodone account for a majority of those deaths. Angela Stander is Prescription Drug Overdose Coordinator with the Utah Department of Health.

“There’s been a 400% increase since 2002, so in those years it’s definitely been on the rise, but also the number of sales of opioid medications have been on the rise,” Stander says. “It’s obvious that as we continue to prescribe more, then we’re going to continue to see more deaths from these.”

Stander says it’s dangerous to take an opioid pain medication without a prescription, but it’s happening all the time in Utah. State Health Department data shows that nearly 60% of Utahns who were prescribed an opioid in the past year reported that they had leftover medication, but only 27% of that group reported disposing of it.

On Saturday, there will be a take-back initiative, where people can safely dispose of leftover medications at police departments and pharmacies. The nearest location can be found at

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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