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CDC gives Utah $1 million to fight painkiller deaths

Published August 14, 2014 4:21 pm

Painkillers • Nearly 300 Utahns die each year.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Utah, which has one of the nation's highest rates of drug overdose deaths, will get more than $1 million over the next three years to help prevent such deaths from prescription painkillers.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced the grant Thursday.

The money will fund improvements to the Utah Controlled Substance Database, which prescribers and pharmacists use to learn more about their patients' prescription history, said Jenny Johnson, injury prevention coordinator at the Utah Health Department.

For instance, the database could be improved to give real-time results, instead of being updated only periodically, she said.

The grant also will help the department analyze whether two new laws, the naloxone and Good Samaritan laws, help reduce painkiller deaths.

The 2014 Legislature passed HB119, which allows physicians to prescribe naloxone, an antidote or rescue medication, to third parties such as caregivers taking care of someone at risk of overdose.

Naloxone — often referred to by the brand name Narcan — can reverse the effects of an overdose, Johnson said.

The Legislature earlier this year also passed HB11, which gives some immunity from prosecution to bystanders who report someone has overdosed on prescription painkillers.

Johnson said 261 Utahns died from prescription painkiller overdoses in 2012, the most recent year for which full statistics are available.

The top three drugs involved were oxycodone, methadone and hydrocodone, which can go by different brand names. Most deaths were accidental, and pain meds caused more deaths than all other kinds of drugs, including heroin and cocaine.

The number is rising again after legislative funding for a statewide prevention effort expired in 2010. The peak year for such deaths was 2007, when 326 Utahns died from painkiller overdoses, she said.

David Patton, executive director of the health department, said in a news release that the grant "truly has the potential to save lives here in Utah."

The CDC said Utah ranked fifth in the nation in 2011 for all varieties of drug overdose deaths.

The state lost 504 people that year to drug overdoses, or 19.5 per 100,000 people. The United States' rate overall was 13.2 per 100,000. The CDC does not provide national data on prescription painkiller deaths.

Utah prescribers wrote nearly 86 prescriptions for painkillers for every 100 people in 2012, higher than the national rate of less than 83 per 100.

The state ranked 22nd among the states, the CDC said.

Other states getting grants as part of the Boost for State Prevention program are Kentucky, Oklahoma, Tennessee and West Virginia, a CDC press release said.

kmoulton@sltrib.com Twitter: @KristenMoulton