White House official addresses Utah’s prescription drug abuse problem

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah has led the nation in prescription drug abuse and overdose deaths, and the state's pain pill problem has caught the attention of the Deputy White House Drug Policy Director who was in Salt Lake City Friday.

"Our 22-year-old son overdosed on heroin a little over a year ago," said Darlen Shultz, who stood next to her husband, Mike, during a conference about how to combat drug overdoses in communities like Salt Lake.

They join the tens of thousands of Utah families who've lost a loved one to drug abuse. Their story, just like so many others in the state, is what caught the attention of Deputy White House Drug Policy Director Michael Botticelli.

"From the perspective of the White House, I think we know clearly that we can't continue to arrest our way out of the problem, that we have to deal with addiction from a public health standpoint," Botticelli said.

Damian Trujillo, a recovering addict, is an example of someone who got the help he needed.

"Five years ago I was given the opportunity to get into treatment rather than go to prison,” he said. “Because of that opportunity, I have a good life today."

Ben McAdams, mayor of Salt Lake County, also spoke at the news conference.

"One of the things that we discussed that I think is of critical importance is how preventing drug abuse, and preventing overdose, is not only the humane thing to do, but it's also a good thing to protect tax payer dollars," he said.

Ralph Becker, Salt Lake City mayor, was also in attendance.

"The ability of our state now to step forward with the Affordable Care Act resources can and will make a huge difference in our ability to address these issues,” he said. “So many of the people today who are suffering from substance abuse, who need extra help, are in that financial gap that currently is not be addressed.”

Lawmakers are also doing their part. Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-District 37, is sponsoring a bill that would grant those who report overdoses immunity in regard to some charges—a change she hopes will make people more likely to seek help when they are with someone who overdoses.

"The first one, known as House Bill 11, is known as the good Samaritan bill, it's on the Governor's desk awaiting his signature," she said.

Her second piece of legislation, HB 19, would expand access to naloxone, a drug used to reverse overdoses from painkillers.

"My bill would allow a prescription to be given to a friend, a family member, police officers could carry it, anyone close to anyone in recovery can get a prescription for naloxone,” she said.

That legislation is still making its way through the Senate, but it's a bill that got a thumbs up from Botticelli.


  • Eric Anderson

    I’m confused by the second paragraph: Are they saying their son had a prescription for heroin? Or was their testimony irrelevant to the subject at hand?

  • Darlene French Schultz

    No, Eric Anderson we are not saying that our son had a prescription for heroin. Addiction can start with any pharmaceutical like OxyCotin and quickly turn into a heroin addiction. That is how we lost our son!

  • Randy

    Getting over an addiction is not easy at all I still struggle with it every day and the last time I used heroin was march 3 2003 and still do get cravings though not as bad now as when I first quit. I agree that law enforcement would rather put people in jail instead of give the people the help they need or law enforcement tries to turn the addict into a confidential informant keeping them in the crowd that are doing and selling drugs. There are not enough programs out there to help an addict and society looks down on people with an addiction. This is a worldwide problem we have as a society and not enough is being done to help the people that are in need and want the help it seems to me that the government, law enforcement would rather throw the people in jail instead of help them get the help they need and deserve. When I was ready to quit I had to get away from all my so called friends and depend a lot on my family and support groups and it was still a struggle and I learned how to live without drugs but it can only be done if the person wants to quit you can’t make someone quit or they will still use. You have to be ready to quit and it does get better. If I can do it anyone can do it. I’ve lost a lot of friends to overdosing from drugs. When is enough going to be enough when is the government going to see treatment is more beneficial than throwing the people in jail or prison. My heart goes out to all who have lost loved ones from addiction.

  • Jennifer

    I have over 7 yrs sobriety from heroin. My addiction started when I first took OxyContin. I had taken Loritab in my life, but it didn’t stick the way OxyContin did. Before I knew it, I was making excuses to my OBGYN for more Oxy’s. Finally he sent me to a pain clinic. On my first visit to that clinic, the Dr doubled the prescription I previously had. Within 6 months I was up to 2- 80mg OxyContin, 2- 30mg Roxycodone, along with a script for Xanax and ambien. When I ran out of my scripts, I flew down to San Diego and went over to tiajuanna, to a “special” pharmacy there and bought more. It got so bad, that if I couldn’t make it to San Diego soon enough, I used heroin. All this time I would have bouts using cocaine to try and get some energy. In the end, I was snorting up to 8-10 80mg OxyContin, numerous Xanax, each day, and burned a hole in my nose with the cocaine. I put myself in rehab on Sept 28, 2006 at 1:18pm. I will remember that day for the rest of my life. I have not relapsed, and it is still a daily battle. I wish we could get rid of OxyContin. I understand a lot of people are addicted to pain meds in general, but I have a personal vengeance against Oxy.

  • julianna

    this is great but they need to start with controlling first. To many doctors give it out like candy and they don’t care. and then there are pain clinics. Any one off the street that has money can get pain pills from those clinics. i thinks its 450.00 the first visit and then 150.00 each visit after. at least a couple years ago that’s how it was. im sure its the same now.( My father died of an accidental overdose from prescription pain pills) I tried to let the doctor know that my father was abusing and instead of doing something about it he told my father that i called. He stopped talking to me.

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