The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) will host its 22nd National Prescription Drug Take Back Day on Saturday, April 30 from 10 am to 2 pm

This bi-annual event offers free, anonymous disposal of unneeded medications at drop boxes at more than 4,000 local drop-off locations nationwide. Please remember that every day of the year that there are drop boxes scattered throughout Utah.

“Disposing of unneeded medications can help prevent drugs from being misused,” said DEA Administrator Anne Milgram. “Overdose deaths continue to hit tragic record highs. I encourage everyone to dispose of unneeded prescription medications now.”

According to the DEA, drug overdose deaths are up 16 percent in the last year, claiming more than 290 lives every day.  According to a report published by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a majority of people who misused a prescription medication obtained the medicine from a family member or friend.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that in the United States, more than 106,000 people died as the result of a drug overdose in the 12-month period ending November 2021, marking the most drug-related deaths ever recorded, with opioid-related deaths accounting for 75 percent of all overdose deaths.

How did Utah handle the COVID pandemic in terms of drug deaths?  

Overall, Utah is not experiencing as significant of increase in all overdose deaths as reported in other states. 

The CDC reports that the United States experienced a 30.9% increase in all drug overdose deaths between January 2020 and January 2021 – and Utah saw an 11.2% increase in overdose deaths.

However, the number of fentanyl involved overdose deaths has increased considerably over the last two years.

Based on preliminary data from the Utah Office of the Medical Examiner, there were 569 fatal overdoses of accidental and undetermined intent in Utah in 2021. This represents a 7.1% increase in all fatal drug overdoses (i.e., any drug) compared with the previous 12 months, January 1, 2020 through December 31, 2020.

The majority of drug overdoses in Utah are the result of polysubstance use. 
Over half (58%) of all overdoses in 2021 involved both an opioid and a stimulant. This represents a 29% increase in the number of overdoses involving both an opioid and a stimulant from 2020 to 2021. 

Methamphetamine was responsible for more deaths (48%) than any other single drug in 2021 followed by fentanyl (28%) and heroin (25%).  

What the community needs to know is that not all opioids are created equally. It is like comparing apples to oranges based on which opioid is prescribed, the strength of the opioid, and the frequency of the dose.

All opioids have risks, but the risks increase as the potency increases.  Several studies show that long-term opioids don’t improve pain relief and can contribute to significant risk, overdose, and side effects for patients.  

There were 407 accidental overdoses and overdoses of undetermined intent involving an opioid in Utah in 2021. This represents a 3.3% increase in fatal overdoses involving an opioid compared with the previous 12 months, January 1, 2020, through December 31, 2020. 

Overdose deaths among youth are rare. On average, there were fewer than five overdose deaths per year since 2016. However, the number of overdose deaths involving fentanyl increased in 2020 and 2021 compared with previous years.

All overdose deaths among those ages 14 to 17 involved fentanyl in 2020 and 2021. Drug use, even experimentally, is more dangerous now than it has been at any time previously due to increased availability of fentanyl. Additionally, adolescents are at a higher risk for opioid overdose due to drug naivety, including lower tolerance and use. 

The highest number of overdoses in 2021 were among those ages 35 to 44, followed by those ages 25 to 34.  

What is Intermountain Doing? 

Intermountain Healthcare is working to ensure that patients and communities can live the healthiest lives possible. Part of that mission is to ensure that the health system caregivers prescribe opioid medications responsibly to ensure that patient safety is maintained.

To address this, and to ensure that Intermountain is doing its utmost to help improve patient safety, Intermountain has changed the quantities of opioid tablets prescribed for acute needs such as surgery. 

Intermountain is now working to ensure that the strength of medications provided to patients is most appropriate to meet their needs. These efforts help to reduce the risk of patients developing opioid use disorder, overdose, and even death. 


Intermountain Healthcare underwent a process in 2017 to work with prescribing physicians and mid-level providers to work as a team to reduce the number of opioid pills prescribed. 

Through this process, Intermountain has “right-sized” prescribing to better fit the need of the patient aligned with the procedure/pain need. Since this effort was initiated, Intermountain Healthcare has prescribed over 11 million fewer opioid tablets, a 40% reduction in acute and 31% in chronic prescribing. 

MME Reduction 

Intermountain Healthcare is actively working to address not only the quantity of pills prescribed by providers, but also the potency of those medications. 

At the beginning of 2019, 11.21% of all opioid prescriptions from Intermountain Healthcare providers were of high dose opioids, or high morphine Milligram Equivalent (MME). As of now, Intermountain’s percent of prescriptions with a high (>90) MME is about 7%. 
 
Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about alternatives to opioids. If an opioid is needed, ask about side effects, the risk of overdose, and about naloxone.   


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