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26 years after losing brother to opioid overdose, Utah doctor thrilled to see state receive funding to help with crisis

Posted at 9:58 PM, Feb 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-26 01:03:40-05

SALT LAKE CITY— The Utah Attorney General’s Office announced Friday that a national settlement has been finalized. Fifty-two states and territories are part of a $26 billion dollar settlement with three major pharmaceutical distributors.

Utah will receive $266 million dollars from this settlement. A spokesman with the AG's office said they’re worried state agencies will take that cash and put it elsewhere. For their office, the focus is using the money to help treat those addicted.

Treatment is something Dr. Jennifer Plumb does every day as the medical director of Utah Naloxone.

“We wanted to create a space that was welcoming,” said Plumb, showing off the art pieces covering the clinic walls.

She spoke with FOX 13 News about the clinic — not just from her view as a medical professional, but from personal experiences.

“My kind of work in this area started not necessarily by choice, but by being thrown into it as a family member,” Plumb said.

Her family was close growing up, and she loved spending time with her younger brother Andy.

“We had an idyllic childhood,” Plumb said. “And one day it became clear my brother was in trouble.”

Andy was addicted to heroin.

Plumb said they tried countless treatment centers and recovery programs, but it wasn’t enough. Andy passed away in 1996 after overdosing. He was 22 years old.

You might recognize Andy on billboards across the Beehive State.

Plumb hopes to share the message that your life is more than your addiction.

“The thing that you hope to do is to make a connection enough that makes people see, ‘Hey, I value you. I want you here. I want you to come back and I want you to be alive,’” she said.

That’s why Plumb was encouraged by the $266 million dollars the State of Utah received in a settlement between Cardinal, McKesson, AmerisourceBergen, and Johnson & Johnson.

“It’s interesting — people say they should’ve never used drugs. You mean they should not have followed their prescription?” Plumb said.

The Utah AG’s Office said $133 million will go to the state and $133 million will go to local communities to support treatment, recovery, harm reduction and more.

The money comes in a time of need after the pandemic, which Dr. Plumb said brought opioid overdoses back up.

“Utah was on its way down, and now it went up 20 percent for 2021,” she said.

Last year alone, 104,000 people died of opioid use disorder across the United States. According to Utah AG Sean Reyes, that’s the largest amount of deaths they’ve seen to date.

“To be clear, this settlement is not about trying to recover money for the loss of life," Reyes wrote in a statement. "All the money in the world could not properly recompense the suffering and loss Utahns have endured. Instead, this money will help us immediately assist those in the cycle of addiction and prevent many of our own friends and family from ever heading down this tragic path in the future.”

At least one Utahn a day dies from an overdose — something Dr. Plumb tries to prevent through her treatment clinic named in remembrance of her brother: Andy’s Utah Naloxone Wellness Center.

The clinic will host two virtual training sessions next week.

Both trainings will show how to use a Naloxone Rescue Kit to rescue someone from an opioid overdose.

Click here to register for the first session on Monday, and here for the session that will be held Wednesday.