Utahns have frank conversations about opioid abuse at summit in Salt Lake City

Posted at 9:50 PM, Sep 28, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-28 23:50:26-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- Opioid abuse is one of the fastest growing drug addictions in Utah, and hundreds have died from it in the past decade.

So, in response, on Wednesday the first Utah Heroin and Opioid Summit kicked off in Salt Lake City at the downtown Sheraton. The summit was made possible through the United States Attorney's Office for the District of Utah.

Dozens of Utahans watched the FBI film, "Chasing the Dragon, the Life of an Opiate Addict." For many, it hit too close to home.

"I never heard the term chasing the dragon until one of my daughter's friends told me what it was," Faustine Riley said.

It turns out Riley's daughter has been chasing the dragon, a term used to describe an addict's need to increase their dosage as their tolerance goes up, since 9th grade. The 22-year-old is currently in jail.

"I thought my daughter was dead this last weekend," Riley said. "I hadn't heard from her, I didn't know where she was. I was about to call all the hospitals in Utah and then start with all of the jails."

According to the United States Attorney's Office, the number of opioid deaths continues to rise in Utah every year. The state is now averaging 24 a month. That's the fourth most in the country.

"This is something that can happen in any family, in any community," said Terry Olsen.

Olsen knows these stats all to well. Her son is part of them.

"On November 23 of 2014 we had two police officers come and knock on our door and tell us that his body had been found here in Salt Lake at a local hotel," Olsen said.

One of the main goals of the summit is to change these numbers through education and communication. Following the movie there was an open discussion with law enforcement and medical professionals.

"We hope people understand there is something that can be done, and working together, and not giving up, and preventing and intervening," said Angela Stander with the Utah Department of Health.

Stander deals with opioid addiction every day in her job. She hopes this summit finally gives the epidemic the attention it deserves.

"These are our neighbors, and our friends, and our loved ones who are dealing with this, who are losing people, it's not just something happening in another state, but it's happening right here," Stander said.

The summit continues all day Thursday. It's free and open to the public.