According to the Centers for Disease Control, over 70,000 Americans died of an overdose in 2017, over 47,000 of which involved opioids. The Utah Department of Health reported that Utah has been ranked in the top 10 states for overdose deaths for the last 10 years, and Carbon and Emery counties have opioid overdose mortality rates 2.5 times the national average. In order to address these issues, a summit will be held this week at Utah State University Eastern in Price.
The Tribal and Rural Opioid Initiative (TROI) was launched in 2018 by Utah State University Extension to discuss opioid addiction and treatment with rural communities and provide them with effective resources. By hosting the Rural Opioid Health and Wellness Summit in Price on July 18 and 19, the group hopes to support and provide access to individuals that are frequently underserved.
Dr. Sandra Sulzer, assistant professor of health and wellness at USU, said the conference will include support from both health experts and members of the community.
“This summit is created by community members for community members," she said. "We’re hopeful that bringing everyone from our community together with those experts that collectively we’ll be able to make a bigger difference.”
One challenge the group is addressing is the stigma associated with both drug addiction and treatment. Treatment measures known as harm reduction include evidence-based practices such as syringe distribution programs and medication-assisted treatment that encourage patients to move toward wellness one step at a time. Because concerns with these practices still exist, Sulzer said that stigma will be the main focus of this week’s summit.
“Those are the gold standard evidence-based practices, and they have been for more than two decades," she said. "But even among treatment providers, there’s a lot of stigmas against those approaches, particularly in Utah. We don’t want any of those stigmatizing statements to ever prevent someone from getting the best care possible, so we’re coming at it from those two angles: trying to reduce stigma in the community and trying to reduce stigma among treatment providers.”
TROI expects around 300 people to attend the summit and plans on continuing their efforts by disseminating information and hosting further outreach and education activities.