Utah celebrates 26% reduction in opioid prescriptions with Ogden showcase, but more needs to be done

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OGDEN Robert Hunter has spent decades reaching people addicted to opioids by running and participating in addiction recovery programs.

Now, his work honors the legacy of his late wife, Rula Hunter. Ruela Hunter died earlier this year after overcoming her own addiction and turning to helping others.

He said his wife was being treated for back pain and her doctor prescribed the opioid to her shortly after oxycodone became available in 1996. Hunter, of Ogden, talked about the efforts to help his wife recognize her addiction, the 30 days of hospitalization and the two years of aftercare that followed for both of them.

Sharing a letter written by one of the many people she helped overcome addiction, he said he thought he had lost his wife and children, but instead Lula Hunt helped him find a path to recovery and later He completed law school.

“I was one of the many people Lula saved and I will be forever grateful,” the man said in the letter.

Utah has significantly reduced opioid prescriptions over the past five years, with the number of daily prescriptions falling from 7,000 to 5,200. A party was held at McCready Hospital on Tuesday and a piece of art was installed to celebrate the milestone, delivered through the national program Know Your Script, two medicine bottle chandeliers, one made of One was built with a higher number of bottles and the other was built with a new lower number of bottles which shows how different these totals are.

In 2017, a chandelier containing 7,000 medicine bottles hung in the hospital lobby for the first time; the new installation will remain in the lobby throughout January.

Dr. Michelle Hoffman, deputy director of the Utah Department of Health and Human Services, said the decrease in daily prescriptions is proof that health care providers are responding to the opioid crisis.

Healthy efforts in the mountains

Intermountain Health noticed its over-prescription of opioids in 2017 and began taking action, said Kim Compagni, Intermountain Health’s assistant vice president for pain management services. She said there are risks with opioids and those risks can be seen in the community.

After years of study, she said prescribing patterns have changed and people are taking the correct number of pills to relieve pain. Intermountain Health has reduced the number of opioids prescribed to patients by more than 13 million pills, she said.

About 21 percent of adults in the U.S. live with chronic pain, but Compagni said that in addition to a variety of pain management options, there are other treatments, including therapy, mindfulness, nutritional counseling and other holistic approaches.

Compagni said it also considered the potency of the opioids it prescribed and has reduced the number of opioids prescribed by more than 50% since 2020.

“This is a strong commitment for us, for our patients, and for our community. We want to make sure we reduce our patients’ risk of addiction, opioid use disorder, abuse and overdose death. We are committed to making a difference, “she says.

There’s more to do

In addition to its efforts to reduce prescriptions, Intermountain promotes naloxone as a way to treat opioid overdoses, Compagni said. She said they want it in every home as part of a safety kit, noting it’s safe for children and pets.

“We know we still have work to do, but we are making huge progress in this area,” she said.

Hoffman said the Utah Department of Health and Human Services will continue to work with partners, including health care and community organizations, to reduce the misuse of opioid prescriptions.

“Reducing prescribing is the first step in fighting the opioid epidemic. But we can do more,” she said.

She recommended distributing naloxone, screening for addiction, expanding treatment resources, making fentanyl test strips available and removing the stigma of added substances.

Hoffman said that in 2022, 74% of accidental overdose deaths involved opioids, and while the number of opioid overdoses is no longer increasing, it is not decreasing either. It has been stagnant.

She said illicit opioid abuse is increasing, with fentanyl-related deaths increasing 500% since 2018.

collaborative approach

Hoffman said the partnership needs to continue to eliminate “crises.”

“Just as we work together to reduce prescription opioid abuse, I believe we can work together to reduce all opioid use, treat addiction and save lives,” she said.

South Ogden Mayor Russell Porter is part of a collaborative effort to reduce opioid abuse through Know Your Script, a reflection of the state’s situation in other regions.

“People want to make a difference in a small way individually or make a big difference collectively,” he said.

Porter said every number, or 1,800 prescriptions not filled every day, represents better choices by students, parents, doctors and pharmacists.

Hunt said there is a stigma associated with addiction, but it shouldn’t be. He said that although there are more tools now than when his wife was battling addiction, opioid use will not be completely eliminated.

“The more we talk, the more help we get,” he said. “It’s just one of those things that happens in life and we need to address it head on, and this is how we overcome it,” he said.

He said there is an Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous or addiction recovery meeting held almost every hour in Utah.


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Emily Ashcraft joined KSL.com in 2021 as a reporter. She covers courts and legal affairs, as well as health, faith and religion news.

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