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White House official addresses Utah’s prescription drug abuse problem

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Posted at 9:34 PM, Feb 28, 2014
and last updated 2014-02-28 23:34:09-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah has led the nation in prescription drug abuse and overdose deaths, and the state's pain pill problem has caught the attention of the Deputy White House Drug Policy Director who was in Salt Lake City Friday.

"Our 22-year-old son overdosed on heroin a little over a year ago," said Darlen Shultz, who stood next to her husband, Mike, during a conference about how to combat drug overdoses in communities like Salt Lake.

They join the tens of thousands of Utah families who've lost a loved one to drug abuse. Their story, just like so many others in the state, is what caught the attention of Deputy White House Drug Policy Director Michael Botticelli.

"From the perspective of the White House, I think we know clearly that we can't continue to arrest our way out of the problem, that we have to deal with addiction from a public health standpoint," Botticelli said.

Damian Trujillo, a recovering addict, is an example of someone who got the help he needed.

"Five years ago I was given the opportunity to get into treatment rather than go to prison,” he said. “Because of that opportunity, I have a good life today."

Ben McAdams, mayor of Salt Lake County, also spoke at the news conference.

"One of the things that we discussed that I think is of critical importance is how preventing drug abuse, and preventing overdose, is not only the humane thing to do, but it's also a good thing to protect tax payer dollars," he said.

Ralph Becker, Salt Lake City mayor, was also in attendance.

"The ability of our state now to step forward with the Affordable Care Act resources can and will make a huge difference in our ability to address these issues,” he said. “So many of the people today who are suffering from substance abuse, who need extra help, are in that financial gap that currently is not be addressed.”

Lawmakers are also doing their part. Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-District 37, is sponsoring a bill that would grant those who report overdoses immunity in regard to some charges—a change she hopes will make people more likely to seek help when they are with someone who overdoses.

"The first one, known as House Bill 11, is known as the good Samaritan bill, it's on the Governor's desk awaiting his signature," she said.

Her second piece of legislation, HB 19, would expand access to naloxone, a drug used to reverse overdoses from painkillers.

"My bill would allow a prescription to be given to a friend, a family member, police officers could carry it, anyone close to anyone in recovery can get a prescription for naloxone,” she said.

That legislation is still making its way through the Senate, but it's a bill that got a thumbs up from Botticelli.