SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – Deaths by overdose soared to a record 93,000 across the country over the past year during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the CDC. That’s a 29% increase from last year, which was at 72,000.
Experts say overdose is the leading cause of injury-related death in the U.S., with the majority of deaths involving an opioid like prescription opioids, heroin, or synthetic opioids (like fentanyl). It also tops the list as the leading cause of accidental death for people over the age of 50.
To put that in perspective, 93,000 people could fill up the Sanford Stadium, which houses the Georgia Bulldogs on game day. Overdose Awareness Utah reports that locally, an average of 44 people die from an overdose per day. Nationally, it’s about 255 people a day.
That’s why every year on August 31st, International Overdose Awareness Day is recognized across the world to uphold the campaign to end overdose, remember those who have died without stigma, and acknowledge the grief of family and friends left behind.
This year’s event in Utah will be held Tuesday, August 31st from 6:30 p.m to 8:30 p.m. at the Utah State Capitol. There will be a lineup of speakers, performances, the purple lighting of the Capitol, and a large display to quantify and humanize the number of people who died from overdose. Organizers will also offer Narcan, fentanyl strip testing, and kits.
Destiny Garcia, a woman in long-term recovery joined ABC4’s Rosie Nguyen on the CW30 News at 7 p.m. for an IN FOCUS discussion. She was part of the unsheltered population living in Rio Grande and was arrested multiple times. She now works as an executive assistant for the Salt Lake County Mayor’s Office and a support staff member for Odyssey House of Utah. She shared the circumstances that led to her heroin addiction, her experience of overcoming it, the hardest part about getting clean, the public misconceptions about addiction and drug use, and where she is in her recovery now.
Amber Baum, founder of Overdose Awareness Utah discussed overdose data and statistics, the impact that the pandemic had on the epidemic, why this cause means so much to her, what prompted her to start her organization, the services and resources they provide to the community, how family and friends can talk to a loved one who is struggling, and the details of their event at the Utah State Capitol.
Christina Zidow, chief operating officer at Odyssey House of Utah talked about the signs that you can look for that could indicate a possible overdose, whether someone with prescription pills can accidentally overdose, how important it is to have naloxone even if you don’t know anyone battling addiction, and how treatment programs provided by Odyssey House help reduce a person’s chance of overdosing.
To watch the full IN FOCUS discussion with Garcia, Baum, and Zidow, click on the video at the top of the article.
Catch IN FOCUS discussions with ABC4’s Rosie Nguyen weeknights on the CW30 News at 7 p.m.