Silas Walker, Deseret News
The Capitol in Salt Lake City is pictured on Friday, Jan. 25, 2019. Lawmakers on Wednesday advanced legislation that would formally create a committee to review opioid overdose deaths in hopes of bolstering the state's data and combatting the opioid crisis.

SALT LAKE CITY — Lawmakers on Wednesday advanced legislation that would formally create a committee to review opioid overdose deaths in hopes of bolstering the state's data and combatting the opioid crisis.

The House Health and Human Services Standing Committee on Wednesday voted to favorably recommend HB58, a bill that would formalize the Opioid and Overdose Fatality Review Committee within the Department of Health in Utah code, as well as create a new position in the Office of the Medical Examiner to focus on overdose and suicide fatalities.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, said the committee is already currently meeting, but it hasn't been officially created in state statute. HB58 would formalize the committee in code, meant to keep Utah's momentum going on efforts to curb drug overdose deaths.

"With the strong efforts the Legislature has made toward opioid overdose deaths, I believe our state saw a decline last year of about 12 percent, one of only three or four states that saw a decrease in overdose deaths," Eliason said. "This bill is meant to keep our foot on the gas pedal in terms of reducing deaths of despair."

"Deaths of despair" are what state medical examiner officials call suicide and drug overdose deaths.

Utah's Office of the Medical Examiner reviews about 3,000 deaths per year, of which an estimated 1,000 are deaths of despair, Eliason said. Of those, about 400 to 500 are overdose deaths.

HB58 would also require that the review committee study every overdose death, Eliason said, including toxicology information, demographics and source of the opioid.

"The bottom line is we just don't have enough data," Eliason said.

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"I'm hoping this type of committee will help inform and drive to some degree policy decisions moving forward as we continue to tackle our deaths of despair epidemic that we are facing," he added. "The goal would be someday this committee is dissolved, but we still have a long ways to go."

The House committee gave HB58 its endorsement Wednesday, but at issue will be whether legislators fund it. The bill would require $675,000 in ongoing funds and $145,000 in one-time funds from the state's general fund to the Department of Health to support the effort.

It now goes to the House floor for consideration.