Prescription drug abuse still big problem in Utah

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Whitney Houston's death hits close to home for many Utahns, as well as families fighting the battle of prescription drug abuse, the leading cause of death in the state.

The website tells the story of 13-year-old Cottonwood Heights teenager Connor Watson. He died two years ago from a prescription drug overdose. Watson was like hundreds of Utahns who die each year from prescription drugs like oxycodone, hydrocodone and methadone.

Watson's mother is helping the State Health Department get the message out. She appeared in a video produced by the state of Utah explaining the dangers of prescription drug abuse. In the video, she explains how Connor, a normal teenager, took a prescription that had been sitting on a neighbor's counter. He texted his friends that he would take a couple pills and the go to sleep. But he would not wake up.

Risk factors for prescription drug abuse
While prescription drug deaths are declining, there are risk factors for injury or death due to their abuse.
  • Being unemployed
  • Having past substance abuse addiction
  • Suffering from chronic pain
  • Obesity

"More people die in Utah every year from overdoses of prescription medications than die in car accidents," said Tom Hudachko with the Utah Department of Health. He said many of those who die are self-diagnosing or mixing their meds with alcohol.

Health workers report the last decade was the deadliest for Utahns who overdosed on prescriptions.

"We were seeing 60, 90, 100 or so of these deaths a year and by the year 2007 we had spiked all the way up to 326 deaths per year," Hudachko said.

Those numbers are coming down, but relatives of overdose victims identified many of them as: - Unemployed - Having past Subtance Abuse Addiction - Suffering from Chronic Pain - And obesity " What we would like to do is be able to study these things further to determine if there really are risk factors that are present in a person that might predispose them to an overdose," Hudachko said. "And then a person's physician would be able to identify those things and adjust their treatment accordingly."

The Utah Department of Health says overdose deaths are largely preventable. People just need to be extra careful to use their pills appropriately and throw them away when they're finished.

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