Health officials look for ways to curb Utah’s opioid problem

SALT LAKE CITY - Intermountain Medical Healthcare system is asking its doctors to take a hard look in the mirror to address the rising epidemic of opioid addiction.

“A 40% reduction in prescribing habits for acute pain prescriptions by the end of 2018," Dr. Todd Allen from Intermountain Medical Healthcare said.  "40%, it’s a big, audacious goal.”

Opioids are commonly used to reduce pain and suffering by patients.  But the class of drugs can be highly addictive.

“Probably about 80% of heroin addicts start through prescribed medications.  We prescribe in Utah, 7000 prescriptions for opioids every day.  7000 every day,” Dr. Allen said.

Utah boasts some of the nation’s worst statistics related to opioid deaths.  Utah Department of Health data shows 23 Utahns die every month from prescription drug overdoses.  From 2000 to 2015, the number of prescription drug deaths shot up 400%.  Programs in Utah to address the issue have been successful.  The health department used funding to address the issue from 2007 to 2010, reducing the number of deaths by 28%, but once funding for the effort was cut, the number went back up.

Salt Lake County commissioners have formed a task force to deal with the issue, calling it a widespread epidemic, crossing economic and geographic boundaries.

"This is affecting our families, our neighbors, our economies in the community,” Salt Lake County Council member, Jenny Wilson said.

Reducing the amount of prescriptions is one step.  Getting unused prescriptions off the streets is another.  Dispensary boxes at IMC pharmacies have proven a success over the last year.

“We've collected 15,000 pounds of medications in the last year, through these dispensary boxes, imagine that, 15,000 pounds of those little tiny pills," Dr. Allen said.  "Awesome to get those chemicals off the street."