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Federal infusion to help opioid and heroin addicts in Utah

By Jed Boal | Posted - Mar. 14, 2016 at 6:31 p.m.

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OGDEN — The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is giving $94 million to health centers to fight the opioid and heroin epidemic across the country.

Weber and Davis counties will get a $350,000 infusion of that funding to pay for recovery drugs and counseling.

"This is a big deal for those individuals that need it," said Sonja Levesque, the chief financial officer for the Midtown Community Health Center based in Ogden.

The clinic uses the money for recovery medication for 80 prescription opioid and heroin abusers at its clinics in Weber in Davis counties. The clinic will also use the funding to hire a substance abuse disorder counselor and will increase the hours for its psychiatrist working at its homeless clinic.

"We feel it is a thing happening in Utah more readily all the time," Levesque said about opioid abuse. "We wanted to be able to help these individuals."

Prescription opioid and heroin abuse are at epidemic levels across the country and here in Utah, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Nationally, 46 people die every day from prescription opioid overdoses. In Utah, 30 to 40 people die from heroin or opioid overdoses every month. That's more than the number of people killed in crashes on Utah roads, so any help for recovery is critical.

"It's a very significant public health problem," said Brent Kelsey, assistant director of the Utah Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health.

Alcohol abuse still lands more Utahns in public treatment programs, he said. But heroin abuse is trending to surpass alcohol abuse by the numbers in those programs soon.

"It's been a steady upward trend for about the past eight years," he said.

Today, nearly 3,600 Utahns are being treated for heroin or opioid addiction in public programs. There are nearly that many patients in private programs too. So the Department of Health and Human Services award of nearly $350,000 to an Ogden-based clinic will help addicts.

"The opioid epidemic is one of the most pressing public health issues in the United States today," said Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell. "Expanding access to medication-assisted treatment and integrating these services in health centers bolsters nationwide efforts to curb opioid misuse and abuse, supports approximately 124,000 new patients accessing substance use treatment for recovery and helps save lives."

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has called our current crisis with opioid overdoses and deaths an epidemic.

Today in Utah:

  • Overdose is the leading cause of injury death.
  • The rate of overdose death exceeds that of motor vehicle collisions and firearms.
  • More than 10 Utahns die every week from an overdose.
  • Utah has the highest rate of drug overdose death for veterans.
  • These rates increased nearly 400% between the years 2000-2010, and are continuing to rise.

Courtesy of Utah Department of Health

Drug poisoning is now the leading cause of injury deaths in Utah, according to the Utah Department of Health. Utah is fourth in the nation for drug overdose deaths based on data from 2012-2014. Utah has experienced a 315 percent increase in prescription opioid overdose deaths. More than half of prescription opioid deaths involve oxycodone. Approximately 3,000 Utah students in grades eight, 10 and 12 reported that they had used prescription drugs in the past 30 days not prescribed to them by a doctor.

The clinic will use Vivitrol and Suboxone to help the addicts avoid the physical withdrawal from heroin and opioids and to help block cravings for the abused drugs. Used with counseling, the medications can be a great asset in recovery.

"We are learning more and more about the disease of addiction every day, and we're trying to translate that into the field," said Kelsey.

The Midtown Community Health Center is an integrated public health provider. So, those getting treatment for addiction can take care of other health issue while in recovery.


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