Billboard campaign works to prevent overdoses in Utah

SALT LAKE CITY -- You may have noticed bright yellow billboards around Utah talking about the opioid epidemic and naloxone.

Those billboards have been up for about a year and a half, and although they rotate locations, their purpose remains the same: they are meant to start a conversation.

“These are people that deserve every chance, and if they’re gonna find the chance, if we’re gonna link them to treatment and recovery, which is part of our goal, we need them to be alive first," said Patrick Rezac, Executive Director of One Voice Recovery.

They have worked closely with Utah Naloxone to get naloxone kits into the hands of "true" first responders.

“Sometimes that is a mom and sometimes that is a spouse and sometimes that’s even a child—anyone else who may be around someone at risk of overdose," said Utah Naloxone Medical Director Jennifer Plumb.

Salt Lake City Fire and Unified Fire Authority also hand out kits to people who have witnessed an overdose in their home. They educate those people and those around them on how to use the kits properly.

Community partners are also crucial in outreach to “folks experiencing homelessness, those experiencing active addiction, those who are in recovery, but certainly could be at risk of relapse or of knowing others who are actively using."

About 15,000 kits total have been distributed. Since March 2017, One Voice Recovery has used those kits to save 60 lives.

Volunteer McCall Christensen said she knows how important those kits can be.

“I’ve had to go home on lunch breaks to check on a loved one to make sure that they aren’t overdosed and they aren’t dead, and having that feeling every day is terrible," Christensen said. "And so knowing that I had a naloxone kit on hand if that ever did come up was a comfort."

Rezac strongly believes: “If I can recover, I believe that anybody can. I think that recovery is a reality. People do recover every day.”

It all starts, they said, with ending the stigma and continuing an open, unafraid conversation.

“My brother on the billboard, we lost him in 1996, almost 22 years ago," Plumb said, referring to the billboard on the corner of 1300 East and 700 South in Salt Lake City. "These conversations are still a little bit, 'shh, hush hush.' And they need to be brought out and people need to be supported and people need to be saved.”

Plumb said in a perfect world, people could call a phone number and a crisis team would be on the way. For now, she said, the focus needs to be on the conversation and growing outreach efforts as best they can without substantial funding.