‘Speak out, opt out, throw out’: campaign aims to reduce opioid abuse in Utah County

UTAH COUNTY -- The "Use Only as Directed" campaign is underway at 11 different health care locations across Utah County.

Posters line the doors, walls, tables, trash cans, and floors—reminding people of the risk of addiction.

“Our goal is to reduce the number of acute tablets prescribed for pain at 40 percent. This represents—this is an astonishing number—more than 5 million tablets annually," said Utah Valley Hospital Administrator for Intermountain Healthcare Kevin Brooks, MHA.

Their plan is three-pronged: speak out, opt out, throw out.

“We want people to get the appropriate treatment. We want people to get the resources they need," said Wasatch Mental Health Associate Director Doran Williams, LCSW.

They want health care providers to discuss effective, alternative pain management strategies with their patients and give them the exact amount of pills necessary, no more.

For every week a patient is on an opioid, the risk of abuse goes up 20 percent.

“Acetaminophen or ibuprofen can be used just as adequately as an opioid," said MountainStar Healthcare Director of Pharmacy Janet Zarndt, Pharm. D.

At Thursday's press conference, family members recalled what it was like losing a loved one to opioid addiction and overdose.

Terry Ann Olsen lost her son Dane three years ago. He was injured in an accident at 17 years old; he required 10 surgeries on his right leg over the course of five years.

Olsen said his doctor mentioned getting him off the pain medication, but there was never a solid plan. When Dane ran out of prescription medicine, Olsen said her husband gave Dane Ibuprofen, but it was not enough.

"Addiction and especially the word heroin are something that only exists with rock stars or people on skid row; you don’t expect it to be your 17-year-old son," Olsen said of their experience.

She added she hopes the campaign will teach others how to recognize addiction, identify a treatment plan, and get their loved ones help before it is too late.

According the Utah Department of Health, Utah County is one of the top 5 hot spots in the state for emergency department visits due to opioid misuse or overdose.