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Utah gets $1M grant to battle prescription drug overdose deaths

Published: Thursday, Aug. 14 2014 5:15 p.m. MDT

Data show more people die from drug overdoses in places across the United States where prescribers dole out the most painkillers. And more than $1 million is coming to Utah in the form of a grant to help officials determine why.

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SALT LAKE CITY — Data show more people die from drug overdoses in places across the United States where prescribers dole out the most painkillers.

And more than $1 million is coming to Utah in the form of a grant to help officials determine why.

Utah had the fifth-highest number of overdose deaths per 100,000 people in 2011. It also has the 22nd-highest painkiller prescribing rate in the country, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which awarded $6 million to five states Thursday.

The money will come to Utah over the next three years to help prevent prescription drug overdoses and address the patient and prescribing behaviors that drive it.

"Far too many Utahns are losing their lives each year from misuse or abuse of prescription pain medications," said Utah Department of Health Director David Patton.

Patton thanked the CDC for helping "states that are working to get this epidemic under control."

"It the past, when funding has been available, we've had success in decreasing these deaths," he said. "This grant truly has the potential to save lives here in Utah."

In the past year, Utah lawmakers passed two new laws that address certain problems with prescription drugs in the state. HB119 permits doctors to prescribe a rescue medication, also an opioid, to patients exhibiting symptoms of overdose; and HB11, the "good Samaritan law," offers legal protection to bystanders who report an overdose.

The funding will help health department officials evaluate the effectiveness of the new laws, as well as bolster the Utah Controlled Substance Database, which was created in 1995 to track and collect data involving dispensing of scheduled drugs throughout the state.

A report from the CDC in July revealed that health care providers wrote 259 million prescriptions for painkillers in 2012, "enough for every American adult to have a bottle of pills," the report states. Higher prescribing, the agency believes, is associated with more overdose deaths.

In addition to Utah, the CDC is awarding grant money to Kentucky, Oklahoma, Tennessee and West Virginia.

"States are at the front lines of this epidemic, and as the nation's public health agency, the CDC is committed to helping them any way we can," said CDC Director Tom Frieden.

Email: wleonard@deseretnews.com, Twitter: wendyleonards

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