Legislators target Utah’s opioid problem

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – It’s a growing epidemic in Utah and today several law makers introduced bills to help address the problem.
Several people crowded into the Utah State Capitol today to tackle a very serious and deadly epidemic.  Among those in the room were survivors of drug overdose and their families.
“It’s something that isn’t getting better.  It’s something that’s getting worse as time goes.  One month in 2013, I had four people that were close to me that had died because of their addictions,” says Damien Trujillo a former addict.
But, he’s not the only one to see the effects of drug abuse.  Mitchell Blain attended the event with his mother.  Today, legislators tackled the opioid problem in Utah, something Mitchell is very familiar with.
“I’ve been using since I was about 18, I got into an accident, unfortunately, the doctor gave me a lot of prescriptions for Oxycodone and Percocet, and I never got tapered off.  Once the prescription ended I was addicted to the substance,” he says.
One day, Mitchell overdosed on benzo’s, his mother found him and administered the anti-overdose drug Naloxone, which she had gotten just a week prior.  Mitchell, calls that fate, and says had his mom not taken steps to acquire the medication he would not be here today.  His mom says, by the time paramedics had arrived to treat Mitchell, he was beginning to come to – the medication had worked – and she says she’s glad she had the medication, because first responders didn’t.
Legislators want to see more accessibility to the drug so that it works in situations like Mitchell’s.  According to the Utah Department of Health 24 Utahns die each month from drug overdoses, and Utah is 4th in the nation for these kinds of deaths.  Legislators introduced a package of bills to help address several areas of the opioid problem but with one goal: saving lives.  
Legislators would like to declare drug overdose deaths a public health emergency and to implement ways to get the drug, Naloxone, more commonly known as Narcan, out to more people.
“I’ve heard some doctors wont even prescribe it, they don’t even know about it, but we need to get it on the front lines to Voices of America, to Lucera, to groups that work with people with addiction,” says Representative Carol Spackman Moss.
Other bills introduced would create more repositories including at pharmacies, to give people easier access to places where they could dispose of their unused and outdated medications, cutting down on the risk of those medications being abused by other people or family members.
Another bill would allow pharmacies to dispense Naloxone to those who are at greater risk for overdoses including their families so that they have the drug available should their loved ones overdose.
“Naloxone can save lives and that it’s a safe drug and there will be much greater distribution avenues in the near future,” says Representative Steve Eliason.
The Utah Department of Health has praised the drug for it’s low cost, ability to save lives, and non addictive properties. And legislators hope to see more accessibility of the drug and to educate more people on its benefits, something that is currently lacking in Utah.   
“The more people we can get these Naloxone kits to the better.  I mean coming from both sides, there’s no downside to it, you can’t overdose on it, it still puts you through the withdrawals so you feel what you have done to your body, and I mean it just saves lives,” says Blain.
Other bills proposed include an outreach program to help teach people how to properly administer Naloxone, a drug overdose database, and a needle exchange program to help combat diseases commonly associated with opioid drug use. 

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Glen Mills

Chief Political Correspondent

 Glen is honored to be delivering the news of the day every weeknight at 5, 6, and 10 in his home state. He is an award-winning veteran journalist, who joined the ABC4 News team as a weekend anchor in June 2013. Over the years, he held various positions at the station as he worked his way up to the main anchor chair. He also serves as our Senior Political Correspondent and hosts Inside Utah Politics, which airs every Sunday. The Utah Headliners Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists has recognized Glen as the best government and military television reporter in the state. Before returning home to Utah, he spent 11 1/2 years developing his journalism skills in other states. He held various on-air and management positions at KPVI in Pocatello, Idaho, WGBA in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and KKCO in Grand Junction, Colorado during that time. Read More...