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The formation of a new task force will bring together lawmakers, representatives from the medical community and law enforcement to discuss ways to combat the opioid crisis in Utah, officials announced Friday.
"It's so complicated, it's so complex, it has so many layers and we need everyone's perspective coming together to help us resolve this long term and in the short term," said Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, who will chair the task force with Drug Enforcement Agency District Agent in Charge Brian Besser.
The group will focus on three aspects: law enforcement, the medical community, and education and outreach.
Previously, communication about ideas and approaches to opioids between groups such as law enforcement and the Opioid Community Collaborative, for example, may take months, but the task force brings parties into one room for discussion, said Jennifer Plumb, the medical director of the advocacy group Utah Naloxone.
One of the hopes of the group is to encourage more responsible prescribing by physicians, Besser said.
Physicians are overprescribing opioids because of an underestimation of how addictive the drugs are, Plumb said, and patients have come to expect opioids when they see a doctor.
The state's efforts to clamp down on prescription-drug overdoses includes drop boxes for unused, unwanted or expired prescription drugs so the state can dispose of them correctly rather than pills being experimented with or being sold on the street. At a statewide event to accept prescription drugs on April 29, law enforcement collected 17,400 pounds of prescription drugs, according to Besser.
Patients should know to ask doctors for alternatives to opioids, as well as how to wean off opiates, Plumb said.
In addition to addressing the supply and the demand of opioids, Plumb said, "we need to keep people alive in the meantime," such as by increasing access to naloxone, a medication to reverse opioid overdoses.
The plan is to use Medicaid dollars to fund the task force, House Speaker Greg Hughes said. The state is talking with the Trump administration about waivers that would allow Medicaid money to be used for behavioral treatment. The task force is also pursuing a grant from the federal government, called the DEA 360 grant.
Drug poisoning deaths have outpaced crash fatalities and gun deaths, according to statistics from the Utah Department of Health, which found a 29.4 percent increase in the rate of prescription opioids dispensed in Utah from 2002 to 2015.
On average, six people a week die from opioid overdose in Utah, according to the Health Department, and Utah has the seventh highest rate of overdose in the nation.