SALT LAKE CITY - A new Kaiser Family Foundation study found heroin overdose deaths have more than tripled since 2007 in Utah.
“A 300 percent plus increase is really a little shocking to read about I think," said Utah Naloxone Executive Director Jennifer Plumb.
The study also found 166 Utah residents fatally overdosed on heroin in 2016, which is up from 127 deaths in 2015. Overall, opioid overdose deaths in Utah averaged about 600 every year from 2013 to 2016.
The Utah Department of Health found 80 percent of people addicted to heroin started by getting hooked on prescription drugs.
Plumb thinks despite these statistics, Utah is heading in the right direction in addressing the problem through a multi-agency collaborative effort that arms the public with a life-saving tool: a Naloxone kit. Naloxone is the opioid overdose-reversing drug first responders use.
“You’re gonna be armed with the weaponry that we’re armed with every day to be able to help them in a dire emergency," said Unified Fire Authority Public Information Officer Eric Holmes.
Salt Lake Fire has had the kits on hand for about eight months and UFA about two. They both carry the kits along in firetrucks and ambulances to hand out when they respond to an overdose call. Salt Lake Fire also has them in-house at their stations. Starting March 1 UFA will too.
“By all accounts, we are seeing positive interactions with the community, which we love and we feel like it is being successful to the point where there’s no doubt in our minds that we want to continue," Holmes said.
Plumb said this progression in the program, along with distributing Naloxone kits to other community organizations, people, and businesses is helping fight Utahns from becoming another statistic.
“Every single day in the state of Utah at least one person on average we’re losing to an opiate overdose with where our numbers are. So today there’s a funeral. Tomorrow there will be a funeral. Someone’s planning a funeral for the upcoming weekend and it will just continue on," Plumb said.
In addition to the kit, UFA is also handing out cards to PushToSurvive.org so people can learn CPR at home.
“You could be doing that while we’re in route. You can be delivering that Naloxone while we’re coming," Holmes said, adding people need still to call 911, too. "Truly, it’s going to be saving lives and we’ve seen it already in the streets, and we’re excited to see the data come back to prove it."