The number of heroin-related overdose deaths in Utah decreased for the first time in six years, according to the Utah Department of Health.
The data also showed the number of prescription-opioid deaths in the state declined for the third consecutive year.
Anna Fondario is manager of the violence and injury prevention program at the Utah Department of Health. She says most of the data on the decrease of opioid and heroin-related overdose deaths come from the medical examiner at the Utah Department of Health.
“Some of the data is going to be preliminary because it takes some time for toxicology testing to occur, ect.,” Fondario said. “But for 2017, there’s only about 18 or 19 cases that are still pending a final manner of death. And so even if those 18 or 19 cases resolved and became opioid-related overdose deaths, which is unlikely that all of them would, but even if they all did we would still be lower than we were in 2016.”
According to the preliminary results, 360 people died of an opioid-related overdose in 2017. This is an almost 20 percent decrease from 2016.
“We still have a couple more months to go for 2018,” Fondario said, “but preliminary data shows that we are hopeful that we will continue to see those decreases in 2018.”
It is not possible to say if this decrease is a direct result of collaborative efforts in Utah to fight the opioid epidemic. However, Fondario says she is hopeful the data means progress is being made.
“It’s not just one agency that is really making a difference in this area,” Fondario said. “It’s all agencies working together and focusing on this issue. And then just not the agencies, but the public, legislatures, just this comprehensive, collaborative effort has really helped us drive these issues down and make impact.”
In addition to the decrease in opioid deaths for 2017, Governor Gary Herbert's office announced new efforts to address the epidemic. These include a grant from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention to establish a near real-time monitoring system for opioid overdose events and grants to help communities implement their own evidence-based prevention activities.