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The Opiate Crisis

Opiate overdose has become a significant problem throughout the United States. The opiate crisis has been addressed on both a state and federal level for the past several years, but despite governments best efforts, overdose rates continue to rise (Centers for Disease Control, 2016). In Utah, several policies have been enacted to deal with this crisis, but is there one whose benefits outweigh the others? Is this an issue that can be successfully addressed with one sweeping policy or is it going to take many policies designed to address the crisis from several angles?

Opiate overdose death is defined as an accidental death from any opiate, including prescription medication such as Oxycontin or Percocet and illicit drugs such as heroin. With more than 33,000 deaths from opiate overdose nationwide in 2015 (see graphs below), the Center for Disease Control has declared the opiate overdose crisis an epidemic (Center for Disease Control, 2016).


Number of Deaths from Opiate Drugs
Number of Deaths from Heroin

According to the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health:

  • 10.3 million persons used prescription painkillers non-medically in 2014

  • Approximately 1.9 million met criteria for prescription painkillers use disorder

  • 4.8 million people have used heroin at some point in their lives

  • 212,000 people aged 12 or older used heroin for the first time within the prior 12 months

  • Approximately 435,000 people were regular (past-month) users of heroin

Utah has been one of the hardest hit states with this issue, ranked 4th highest in opiate overdose deaths in the country in 2012 and 7th highest from 2013-2015 (Utah Department of Health, 2016). The decline is not because Utah got better, it is because other states such as Ohio and Kentucky, got worse. Utah experienced a 400% growth in prescription drug overdose deaths from 2000-2015, demonstrating that the problem here cannot be ignored. (Utah Department of Health, 2016).

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