Opioid abuse up during pandemic, expert tells Utah County

The public health professor names the stress of COVID-19 and the pandemic making support inaccessible as contributing factors.

(Patrick Sison | The Associated Press) This 2017 photo shows an array of pills for the opioid oxycodone acetaminophen in New York. One of the many negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in Utah has been an increase in opioid abuse, according to a health expert.

By Connor Richards | The daily herald

Provo • One of the many negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in Utah County and across the state and county has been an increase in opioid abuse, according to a local public health expert.

This information was presented to the Utah County Commission during a working session on Wednesday where Gabriela Murza, who leads the Utah State University Extension’s HEART initiative, discussed the state-funded program that “brings academic resources to the community, local and national partnerships to address the opioid epidemic and other pressing public health issues, ”the Daily Herald reported.

According to Murza, the program operates in nine counties, including Utah County, “where opioid use disorder has had some of the most devastating effects in terms of overdose and death-related opioid use.” Other counties served by the program include Salt Lake, Davis, Tooele, and Box Elder counties.

Murza told commissioners that opioid use disorder rates have “leveled off” in recent years and “the trend seems to be getting a little better in Utah”.

But, added the public health professor, “then 2020 struck and wherever the numbers went up, they went up to death from opioids.”

“In Utah County in particular, trends seem to be going down or flattening out. You seem to be getting better. But here, too, these numbers are skewed with events like COVID, and it could take some time to bring these values ​​back down, ”said Murza.

While national data are typically two years behind, meaning the latest available national data is from 2019, Murza expects “some really scary 2020 data”.

“Because it’s not just the opioid use itself, it’s not just the use of that prescription or that opioid,” she said. “But it’s also the stress that came with COVID, the stress, the inability to maintain those close relationships, or even go to recovery and support services or get the treatment they needed. Even if it was virtual, it wasn’t available to everyone. “

However, Murza also noted that she was “positive” about the work of the HEART initiative in Utah County and said she looked forward to continuing education and preventing opioid abuse.

“I know the work is there, the work is definitely there,” she said. “So it will take some time.”

Commissioner Bill Lee noted that Utah officials have made efforts in recent years to combat and prevent opioid abuse in the state.

“We made a significant effort to educate people at this level a few years ago, getting our hospitals, doctors and dentists, and others to shop and find ways to help, especially on the prescription opioid side,” Lee said .

During the working session on Wednesday, 4-H Mentoring Coordinator Brandon Summers told the commission that the youth program, which is targeting young people aged 9-15 who are “considered at greater risk”, “has been in recent decades significantly expanded “.

Summers said most of the mentors in the program are college-age students who “act as a big brother or sister to these kids and role models and someone they can rely on, as many of these children come from very difficult circumstances. ”

The program received two federal grants from the Justice Department’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Crime Prevention, which according to Summers, equates to approximately $ 1.2 million in funding over the next three years.

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