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Pharmacists across Utah will begin placing red stickers atop opioid pill bottles next month as part of a new Utah Department of Health program aimed at warning customers about the dangers of addiction.

UDOH's new Talk To Your Pharmacist Month in May will encourage pharmacists to start a dialogue with customers about the risks of opioids amid rising abuse of the prescription drugs.

"Given the high number of deaths associated with prescription opioids, understanding the risks of opioids is vital to patient safety." said Angela Dunn, deputy state epidemiologist for UDOH.

The initiative, a collaboration between UDOH, Utah Pharmacy Association and Utah Department of Commerce, was announced Thursday at the pharmacy in Harmons at City Creek and will run through May 31.

The red stickers – which read "Caution: Opioid. Risk of Overdose and Addiction" – are meant to prompt those prescribed opioids to ask pharmacists questions about their medications, said Greg Jones, director of pharmacy for Harmons and chairman of the Utah Pharmacy Licensing Board.

With an alarming number of individuals in Utah dying from prescription opioid overdose each month, according to UDOH data, Jones said the risks surrounding opioid use need to be clear to patients.

"I don't think (customers) are afraid to ask questions about opioids," he said. "I think they underestimate or don't understand the dangers associated with opioids."

The stickers also direct customers to to get more information about recognizing opioid medications, treatment and overdose symptoms as well as use of Naloxone – which blocks and reverses the effects of opioid medications.

Jones said many patients don't know which medications are even considered opioids.

Some common opioid medications include oxycodone, hydrocodone, hydromorphone, methadone and morphine and all are predominantly prescribed for pain relief. Taking any opioids runs the risk of physical dependency, addiction and death.

The dispense rate of opioids prescribed in Utah increased by 29.4 percent from 2002 to 2015, a UDOH report found. In the first month of 2016 alone, the report said, more than 210,000 opioid prescriptions written by more than 9,000 prescribers in Utah – averaging about 23 prescriptions per prescriber.

Overdoses can still occur when patients use opioids as directed, particularly when used with other medications, alcohol or sleep aids, said Dunn. Signs of an opioid overdose include pinpoint pupils, shallow or no breathing, blue or purple fingernails and lips and faint heartbeat.

Dunn and Jones both stressed the importance of openness about opioid dependence and overdose as a pivotal factor in spreading awareness and reducing overdoses.

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