‘Stop Opidemic’ campaign launched to combat Utah’s opioid epidemic

SALT LAKE – In Utah, we’re losing six people a week to opioid addiction. Wednesday, the Utah Department of Health unveiled a new campaign called “Stop the Opidemic.”

Utah has been hit hard by the opioid epidemic. According to the Department of Health, from 2013-2015, 268 Utahns died from prescription opioid overdose, 127 died from illicit opioids such as Heroin, and 10 deaths involved prescription and illicit opioids.

Utah ranks 7th highest in the nation for drug overdose deaths.

Dr. Eric Christensen, Utah’s Chief Medical Examiner, knows the seriousness of the opiate issue firsthand.

“Just this morning I did another heroin overdose autopsy," he said. "It’s a very common thing that we see pretty much multiple times a week, sometimes multiple times a day.”

Christensen says people don’t realize the nature of the addiction or how strong it is. Eighty percent of heroin users started with prescription drugs.

Alema Harrington, a recovering addict, took that path.

“I never put a needle in my arm, but I was on heroin," Harrington said. "I smoked heroin and I snorted heroin.”

The former BYU football player spoke candidly about how a football injury led to his abuse of prescription drugs and eventually heroin. He was using while working as a TV sports broadcaster.

“There are plenty of functioning addicts that are struggling in an office," he said. "Mothers struggling in their home. And their lives have been taken from them because of this.”

Mark Lewis lost his 27-year-old son Tony to a heroin overdose. Lewis tried to get help for Tony as his addiction spiraled out of control.

“Tony hated the drug," Lewis said. "He didn’t want to use it and it took over his life and it destroyed him.”

Lewis wishes he would have known about Naloxone, a drug that reverses the effects of opioids. Utahns can now purchase the life-saving drug without a prescription.

In the meantime, he recommends people seek proper treatment of opioid addiction.

“I know you feel alone, lost and exhausted," he said. "You can’t give up. You’ve gotta go find help."

For more information about the campaign and resources available, click here.