Utah has one of the highest rates of opioid deaths in the country. That has prompted lawmakers to write four bills to address the epidemic levels of abuse in the upcoming legislative session.
The bills introduced so far look at a variety of ways to address opioid abuse. One focuses on insurance companies by asking them to create policies to reduce the risk of opioid addiction. Another is focused on reclassifying a synthetic compound with the nickname “pink” as a Schedule 1 drug. A third looks at reducing the liability if someone tries to help another person who is overdosing by giving them an overdose reversal drug to save their life.
Raymond Ward is a primary care physician and represents Bountiful in the Utah legislature. He says many of the bills introduced last year were related to people who were already addicted. And that’s shifting this session with more preventative legislation.
"The best place to intervene is way upstream from that. It’s in the prescription habits that got that person addicted in the first place," Ward says.
Historically, the legislature has been supportive of legislation related to opioid abuse. But, according to Mary Jo McMillen, Executive Director of USARA, a nonprofit that deals with substance abuse, one of the biggest hurdles to treating people is still funding.
"In the behavioral health treatment system, we can only serve about ten percent of people who identify with substance abuse disorder who are uninsured," McMillen says.
Overall, Utah’s approach seems to be improving. But, Ward says the biggest impact will come when both patients and prescribers accept how dangerous these drugs really are.