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Utah 1st state to get new DEA program to combat ‘devastating’ opioid epidemic

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SALT LAKE CITY — State officials and the federal Drug Enforcement Agency announced Wednesday morning that Utah will be the first to implement their 360 Strategy statewide to combat what they call a “vicious and deadly” heroin and opioid epidemic in Utah.

The DEA's 360 Strategy has been developed to take a three-pronged approach to address the epidemic, said Brian Besser, the head of the DEA in Utah. The strategy has been deployed in 10 cities around the United States, but Utah is the first state to be approved for the program.

More than 64,000 Americans lost their lives to opioid addiction in 2016, Besser said, and 30 Utahns die every month from it.

“The crisis is simply overwhelming,” he said.

The first element of the program is law enforcement, who will “aggressively” go after drug cartels and also help educate the community, Besser said.

About 80 percent of new heroin users start the cycle of addiction with prescription painkillers, and the second element of the program targets prescription painkillers. The DEA will target pharmacies and doctors who “act outside the law” in prescribing and filling opioid medications, he said. They will also work with pharmacies, doctors and manufacturers to prevent them from overprescribing, Besser added.

“We want to stop the deadly cycle of heroin and opioid use by eliminating individuals pushing drugs throughout the state,” he said.


It was a joint effort to get the 360 Strategy grant that included Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes and Utah GOP House Speaker Greg Hughes going to Washington to meet with federal officials and President Donald Trump. Reyes said it was “partially Utah’s influence” that spurred Trump to declare a national opioid emergency in October.

The 360 Strategy program partners with Utah’s opioid task force and other state programs that are currently tackling opioid addiction in the community. Utah opioid task force members are also working to get insurers to expand coverage for opioid addiction and to get harsher penalties for distributors.

“Members of the task force are working on bills to give prosecutors the teeth to go after cartels and drug dealers, but make sure to divert those who are addicted away from incarceration and into recovery to reclaim lives,” Reyes said.

In addition to educating communities about the epidemic, the program will also focus on helping Utahns recognize the importance of drug recovery programs.

“These people who need help should be able to get the comprehensive help they need without hassle and without the stigma of shame,” Besser said. “Too many Utahns are dying at home, and no one knows anything about it.”

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