SALT LAKE CITY — A handful of the state’s foremost leaders in the fight against opioid addiction met Tuesday at the University of Utah for a panel discussion focusing on how to overcome that scourge in Utah.
The discussion, held at the U.’s Hinckley Institute of Politics, was moderated by Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, who told reporters afterward that opioid addiction has “become a public health crisis, a policy crisis, a political crisis.”
“You shouldn’t be a knee surgery away from (being) homeless” thanks to addiction, Cox lamented in an interview.
In 2016, 600 Utahns died from a fatal opioid overdose, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a prominent health care think tank. U. spokeswoman Brooke Adams said Utah ranks seventh in the country for such deaths, citing public health data indicating overdose fatalities in the state quadrupled between 2000 and 2015.
Cox posed questions about how to reduce opioid overdoses to a panel consisting of Adam Cohen, CEO of the Odyssey House substance abuse and mental illness treatment center; Angela Stander, prescription drug overdose prevention coordinator for the state Department of Health; and Jennifer Plumb, medical director of the Utah Naloxone Association and assistant pediatrics professor at the U.
Plumb described the efforts of both her organization and the state to distribute numerous kits of an overdose reversal medication called naloxone, leading to thousands of rescues in the last few years. It’s an undertaking she called “tremendously successful.”
“We’ve gotten naloxone into thousands of homes across the state … everywhere we can possibly get it to people,” she said.
Plumb also said that in terms of addiction recovery, naloxone ought to be seen as merely a small piece — a last resort “fire extinguisher” — in preventing opioid overdose deaths.
“(But) you can’t get