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SALT LAKE CITY — When it comes to drug abuse, Utah officials are hoping residents and policymakers take hold to the old adage that "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."
And a nearly $2 million grant to help fund drug abuse prevention efforts throughout the state intends to help with that.
"Sometimes people think you just put out a TV commercial to educate people and try to get parents on board, and that all helps," said Craig PoVey, prevention administrator at the Utah Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health. "(But) we need to drill down to target specific messages in each area."
So much — including lives and finances — are at stake, he said.
"The numbers are growing at an alarming rate," PoVey said.
The money, coming as $375,000 a year from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, will be used in Utah to strengthen drug misuse prevention efforts and raise awareness about the growing problem of prescription drug overdose deaths.
"States are on the front line of preventing prescription opioid overdoses. It is critical that state health departments have the support they need to combat the epidemic," said Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "States can use these funds to develop, implement and evaluate programs that save lives."
PoVey commended recent partnerships between community coalitions, hospitals and law enforcement agencies that are working on informing youths about the consequences of illicit drug use. But combating the problems will take much more commitment, he said.
"Parents are a very strong influence on youth decisions, although with this epidemic, you've got a lot of people that are getting addicted to prescription drugs and using heroin that are older than teens," PoVey said.
Efforts he directs will be focused on problems facing specific communities, as well as working with policymakers and law enforcement to enact and enforce laws and public policies.
PoVey is also intending to help enhance computer-tracking of prescriptions written for addictive opiate medications, and "helping prescribers understand there are alternatives to the usual practice of prescribing a 30-day supply of opiates," he said.
"The best prevention includes working with the individual, working with the families and communities, working with the schools, working with law enforcement, religious entities, as well as the policymakers to make sure we have the right laws in place," PoVey said, adding that the methodical, data-backed, science-based strategies on drug abuse prevention he's hoping to implement are proved to work.
And what works in one community doesn't always work in another, so the department is hoping to customize prevention efforts throughout Utah.
"We need to look at preventing overdoses from happening, but also the effects down the road to curb that," PoVey said. "Today's abusers are tomorrow's people hitting the emergency rooms."
Nearly one person dies in Utah every day of the year due to prescription drug overdose, he said.
"It's so important for everybody to understand that we can't sit around and wait for the crisis to happen," PoVey said. "We need to move upstream and prevent these problems from happening to begin with, and that really takes community effort to do that."
The money coming from the federal government is part of the Opioid Initiative, which was launched in March 2015 and is focused on improving opioid prescribing practices, expanding access to medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder and increasing the use of naloxone to reverse opioid overdoses. It is a small portion of more than $52.5 million doled out by the CDC in 2016.
A 2017 budget proposal to continue efforts has not been approved by Congress.