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Heroin abuse steadily rises in Utah, officials say

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Posted at 7:21 PM, Apr 07, 2014
and last updated 2014-04-07 21:21:38-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- The number of heroin overdoses and those seeking treatment has steadily increased over the past 20 years, officials said Monday.

In 1993 it was reported that about 2 percent of Utahns seeking addiction recovery treatment were using heroin. It has since increased to more than 15 percent.

“There hasn’t been a spike but there has been a slow and steady climb,” said Brent Kelsey, assistant director of the Utah Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health.

Utah’s Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health has been watching the cases of heroin addiction rise.

“There were 589 overdose deaths in 2012 and we believe about 13 percent of those were caused by heroin overdose, so it costs people their lives,” Kelsey said.

Experts said access and availability drive drug use in the state.

Since 2003 Utah has ranked among other states with the highest rates of non-prescription use of pain relievers. Officials said heroin has proved to be a cheap and available alternative.

“The prescription pain relievers pharmacologically are very similar to heroin and we do hear of people transitioning from prescription drugs to heroin,” Kelsey said.

Local law enforcement confirmed the calls relating to heroin use have increased over the years.

“Yeah we are seeing overdoses, we’re seeing calls about distribution and drug sales – we’re seeing calls for shoplifting and theft and burglaries,” said Det. Greg Wilking with Salt Lake City Police.

Two House bills were drafted in an effort to combat drug use in Utah.

House Bill 11 targets overdose reporting and House Bill 119 allows the administration of an opiate antagonist, which could reduce the number of deaths caused by opiates like heroin.