Utah's opioid epidemic gains national attention

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Utah) - Opioid addiction is killing Utahns at an alarming rate. On average, one person every day in Utah dies of an opioid overdose. The Beehive State now ranks fourth in the nation for opioid related deaths.

"I grew up in a middle class family. I mean my mom was a doctor." While he doesn't want to share his identity, this recovering opioid addict wants to share his story.

Like many his path to addiction started with an injury. "It started when I was around 18 or 19. I had a back injury and was prescribed from Loritabs. And the first time I took them I felt completely different. I fell in love with the way it made me feel, how it made me more social just everything about it."
When he ran out he turned to the streets for more. "Gradually the Loritabs weren't enough so then I moved on to Oxycontin and Roxicodone."
When he could no longer afford prescription pills he turned to something a lot cheaper - heroin."It was a difficult thing to wrap your head around, wow, I'm doing heroin and I'm doing it every day."

Misty Newman, a clinical mental health counselor with Cornerstone Clinic, says it's a very common progression. "A lot of people start with an injury or something that lead them to the doctor and the doctor prescribes opiates in the synthetic form and it evolves into a heroin addiction," said Newman.

While injury is a common precursor to opioid addiction Newman says in many cases the substance abuse is just a symptom of deeper problems. "I think people go to their doctors when they probably a lot of the times should be going to a therapist or a mental health practitioner."

In Utah, 7,000 opioid prescriptions are filled every day. Newman thinks there's a different way. "Where narcotics and controlled substances aren't always the answer when someone is in pain. Sometimes it is the answer, but it doesn't always have to be."

There are many in the medical field who agree. In fact, earlier this year Intermountain Healthcare announced its new Speak out, Opt out, and Throw out campaign. The idea is that people should talk to their doctor about being prescribed opioids, then considering opting out and going for non-narcotic pain medication, and then properly disposing of old medications.

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