Utah officials launch opioid abuse task force

The state ranks in the top 10 in the country for drug overdose deaths, with six state residents dying each week from opioid overdoses

By Hallie Golden
Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah officials announced Friday the launch of a new task force aimed at addressing opioid abuse in a state that has one of the highest rates of opioid-related deaths in the country.

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said during a news conference at the state Capitol that the task force is meant to bring together all groups working to combat the opioid crisis in the state so that the effort is better coordinated and fewer lives are lost to drug abuse.

The state ranks in the top 10 in the country for drug overdose deaths, with six state residents dying each week from opioid overdoses, Utah Department of Health officials said earlier this year.

Brian Besser, of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, said the task force is expected to focus on coordinating law enforcement operations, increasing awareness of the opioid problem throughout the state and educating members of the public so they can help fight the abuse.

"We're fooling ourselves if we think that we're going to try to address this issue strictly, singularly through law enforcement efforts," he said. "We want to look at this from every angle possible."

Besser said it's important to get out in front of this problem. He gave the example of two 13-year-old boys in the state's ski-resort town of Park City who overdosed on a new synthetic drug, called U-47700, sometimes known as "pink," in October.

"There's an undercurrent there that was going on," he said. "We should have been ahead of it so that we could have done our very best to try to intercept that problem before it hit the street."

During the recently completed legislative session, lawmakers passed at least three bills meant to tighten control over opioids, including a plan that would require that doctors only prescribe one week of opioids for certain prescriptions, and one requiring that state physicians get trained in a national program to help curb opioid abuse.

In January, the health department held an event to announce the launch of its new campaign called "Stop the Opidemic," which is meant to spread awareness about the dangers of the drugs.

State officials said Friday they're pushing to coordinate this type of work, so that law enforcement, state and federal lawmakers and the medical community work together to combat this problem.

Greg Hughes, the speaker of Utah's House of Representatives, said the task force will hold a meeting soon to discuss its specific future plans.

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