In Utah, 360 people died from fatal opioid overdoses in 2017, a decrease from 449 deaths in 2016, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
According to Jennifer Plumb, an emergency medicine physician with the University of Utah Department of Pediatrics and Primary Children’s Hospital, one Utahn fatally overdoses on opioids every day.
“Somewhere in Utah, there was a funeral today, and there will be another funeral tomorrow because of an accidental opioid overdose,” said Plumb.
Naloxone is a drug that counteracts and reverses an overdose of opioids and heroine when injected into a person. Plumb, who is also the co-founder of Utah Naloxone, explained it is safe to use because it can’t hurt anyone, even if someone is given the antidote and is not overdosing.
Utah Naloxone is working to reduce opioid deaths by giving the rescue kits to families and caregivers with instructions on how to use it. Plumb works with first responders, law enforcement, families, doctors, friends of friends who take opioids, and active opioid users themselves.
“A lot of peoples’ addictions start with an injury. Typically what happens next, is when people are addicted to painkillers and can’t get any more, they turn to the streets where heroin is just as easy to get as painkillers,” said Peter Sadler, the Naloxone program director and a recently retired SLC police officer.
“Naloxone is widely available and in 2017 and reversed 99 overdoses in Utah,” said Plumb. “Libraries can even carry Naloxone and give it out for free to anyone who wants it, no questions asked.”
Plumb’s brother died in a Salt Lake City basement of an overdose of opioids and heroin when he was 22-years-old. She wants to get Naloxone kits in the hands of people that will use them to save lives.
“My neighbor was recovering from wrist surgery and we had plans to meet for lunch on a Monday. She never showed up and she died. It’s been two years and I still can’t believe it,” said Laura Johansen. “Her autopsy report showed almost 4 ounces of red wine and her prescription Lortab in her system, she obviously forgot the two can’t mix.”
Doctors often prescribe more pills than needed and those pills can end up where children can get their hands on them. Utah is the fifteenth-highest state in the nation for doctors overwriting opioid prescriptions, according to Odyssey House of Utah Addiction Treatment Center.
“Primary Children’s Hospital has seen an 87 percent increase in children up to five years of age in the emergency room,” said Plumb. “Children are finding opioids in cupboards, purses and sometimes pills are simply forgotten to be put away and kids eat anything.”
The Good Samaritan Law was passed by the Utah State Legislature in 2014 to help reduce drug overdoses. It allows bystanders to report an overdose without fear of criminal prosecution of illegal possession of a controlled substance.
“People can’t get better if they’re dead,” said Plumb.