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PAYSON — As people are given a prescription for a painkiller following an injury, few patients may realize the relief the opioid provides also increases the risk of addiction when those drugs are misused.
On Thursday, Utah County government leaders, health providers and law enforcement announced an effort to reduce opioid abuse and addiction, as mothers shared equally heartbreaking stories about losing their children.
"He was in a motorcycle accident and had broken his collarbone, and that is how it all started,” said Becky Hilliker, who lost her 29-year-old son Derek last year following years of struggle with addiction.
Others shared similar tragedies.
“The day after Christmas, I woke up and found her on the floor with a needle in her arm and she was gone,” said Amber Baum, of American Fork, who lost her daughter McKenzie four years ago.
Terry Ann Olsen of Cedar Hills said her son Dane’s ATV injury was so severe as a teenager that he needed painkillers. But the painkillers ultimately led to a heroin addiction and took his own life at age 25.
"The prescription meds are expensive to buy off the street and someone told him about heroin,” she said.
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Now, there is a new community effort to make sure patients know about the risks.
"Speak Out," "Opt Out" and "Throw Out" is the new message.
Experts recommend patients “speak out” first by asking a doctor if pain medication is really needed. “Opt out” by using ibuprofen instead of a painkiller, and then “throw out” and properly dispose of unused medications as soon as they are no longer needed.
With approximately 7,000 opioid prescriptions filled each day in Utah, the goal is for these messages to be in hospitals to raise more awareness. The messages are also found in pharmacies and mental health clinics.
"People are dying every day,” said Heather Lewis, prevention program manager at Utah County Department of Drug and Alcohol Prevention and Treatment. “Utah is seventh in the nation for overdose death and addiction it mostly starts with prescription pain medication.”