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Learn more about preventing overdose deaths


Drug poisoning deaths have outpaced deaths due to firearms, falls, and motor vehicle crashes in Utah. (1)

In 2014, 32% of Utah adults aged 18 years and older had been prescribed an opioid pain medication in the last 12 months (5). Most Utahns who die from a drug-related death suffer from chronic pain and take prescribed medications. Prescription opioids can be addictive and very dangerous. Misuse of these medications can lead to serious legal and personal consequences, including death. Every month in Utah, 24 individuals die from prescription drug overdoses. Utah ranked 4th in the U.S. for drug poisoning deaths from 2012-2014, which have outpaced deaths due to firearms, falls, and motor vehicle crashes (2). The majority (59%) of deaths from prescription pain medications involved oxycodone, however the risk of death is significantly higher when methadone is involved (3).

Among Utah’s local health districts, Southeast Utah (Carbon, Emery, and Grand Counties) had a significantly higher prescription opioid death rate compared to the state. Utah Small Areas that have higher prescription opioid death rates compared to the state include: Carbon/Emery Counties, Ogden (Downtown), and Taylorsville (East)/Murray (West) (3).

Using a public health approach to address this problem works.

From 2000 to 2014, Utah has experienced a nearly 400% increase in deaths from the misuse and abuse of prescription drugs (3, 4). Utah saw significant decreases in prescription opioid deaths from 2007 to 2010, when the Utah Department of Health received state funding to address this issue; a 28% decrease in the number of prescription opioid deaths in the state. However, in the time since that funding expired, there has been a nearly 27% increase in these deaths (3). Evidence supports that a sustainable, comprehensive public health approach will result in significant decreases in preventable drug overdose deaths and save at least 50 lives each year in Utah.

In Utah, the top five circumstances observed in prescription opioid deaths were (3):

  • 65% substance abuse problem (Substance abuse problems include those in which the individual was noted as using illegal drugs, abusing prescription medications, or regularly using inhalants at the time of death.)
  • 62% diagnosed mental illness
  • 61% physical health problem
  • 16% history of alcohol dependence or problem
  • 10% history of suicide attempt

Dangers of Prescription Drug Abuse

  • Dependence
  • Slower brain activity
  • Irregular heartbeats
  • Dangerously high body temperature
  • Heart failure
  • Lethal seizures

The Utah State Legislature passed two laws in 2014 to help reduce drug overdose deaths.

Good Samaritan Law (House Bill 11)

This law enables bystanders to report an overdose without fear of criminal prosecution for illegal possession of a controlled substance or illicit drug.

Naloxone Law (House Bill 119)

This law permits physicians to prescribe naloxone to third parties (someone who is usually a caregiver or a potential bystander to a person at risk for an overdose) and permits individuals to administer naloxone without legal liability.


  1. Utah Death Certificate Database, Office of Vital Records and Statistics, Utah Department of Health: 1999- 2014 data queried via Utah’s Indicator-Based Information System for Public Health (IBIS-PH) [cited 2016 January].
  2. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS) [Online]. (2012-2014). National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, CDC (producer). [cited 2016 January].
  3. Utah Violent Death Reporting System.
  4. Utah Department of Health Violence and Injury Prevention Program Prescription Medication Program Database.
  5. Utah Department of Health Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System.

For the original article and for further information, please visit violence&prevention.health-utah.gov

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