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Utah Health Advocates Work To Slow Increase In Opioid Related Deaths During The Pandemic

Roel Smart
Utah’s drug related deaths increased 7.5% during the pandemic.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found there's been an increase in opioid related deaths in Utah. From November 2019-2020 Utah saw a 7.5% jump in drug overdose related deaths. Nationwide, there was nearly a 30% increase.

Health advocates and community members are now attempting to slow those numbers in the state.

Gabriela Murza, with Utah State University’s HEART initiative — a public health program that aims to educate people about opioids — said the pandemic isolated people who needed help.

“A lot of folks who might have been going to support groups meetings and getting treatment and going into recovery, a lot of those things had to stop,” Murza said.

Prior to the start pandemic, Utah’s numbers had stabilized, according to Dr. Jennifer Plumb, medical director of Utah Naloxone.

Plumb said she knows people are probably tired of hearing about the different public health crises but it’s important to keep the conversation going around the opioid epidemic.

She said overdoses are preventable but people have become desensitized to this issue.

“What it's going to take is just a kind of reminder and a reconnection to the human faces of who those people are [who are] struggling and need their community to be there for them,” Plumb said.

Heather Lewis, substance abuse prevention program manager for Utah County, said continuing to address the opioid epidemic starts with education.

“Opioids didn't go away,” Lewis said. “It’s not going to go away. We have to continue to educate. We have to continue to share messages and promote safe use and disposal.”

She said people must also get the right medications to assist with opioid addiction. Lewis said there are community resources that provide naloxone kits — a treatment for overdoses in emergency situations.

As for now, Plumb said Utah has work to do.

“We’ve got to re-engage with people and make up for the ground that was lost,” she said.

Utah Naloxone is holding a virtual training session on July 15, to teach people how to save someone who may have overdosed.

Ivana is a general assignment reporter
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