Friday, April 13, 2018

USDA opioid roundtable makes a stop in Utah; one concern is lack of detoxification centers, reliance on jails

A U.S. Department of Agriculture official met with state and local leaders at the Utah state Capitol this week to hear their input on the opioid epidemic. Wednesday's stop was the second of five visits Assistant Secretary for Rural Development Anne Hazlett is making to better understand local concerns about the crisis. The first session was in Pennsylvania, and the remaining three will be in Kentucky, Oklahoma and Maine this summer.

USDA has good reason to listen to rural concerns about the epidemic: "Federal health officials say drug overdose death rates continue to rise in less-populated regions of the country, and a recent national poll found that 3 in 4 farmers and other agricultural workers have been directly affected by opioid abuse," Luke Ramseth reports for The Salt Lake Tribune. Hazlett has said the opioid crisis is "a matter of rural prosperity."

Many who spoke with Hazlett had ties to Carbon County, a rural area with the state's highest opioid overdose death rate. Debbie Marvidikis of the Southeast Utah Health Department told Hazlett the county needs more resources to follow up with addicts. "Medical first-responders, she said, face a vicious cycle of saving an addict from an overdose one Friday night — then having to make the exact same life-saving maneuvers with the opioids-overdose drug naloxone a week later," Ramseth reports. Because Carbon County doesn't have a detoxification center, the only way for area residents to get clean under supervision is to get arrested and detox while in jail.

Jail can be an effective venue for treatment, says Cam Williams, a medical provider at the Carbon County Jail. A jail program provides inmates with the addiction-management drug Naltrexone, and officials follow up with recently released inmates to make sure they're still taking the drug. "Williams said he believes there are 60 to 70 people now sober and finding jobs because of Naltrexone treatment and subsequent follow-up," Ramseth reports.

Tiffany Van Sickle, a prevention coordinator for Four Corners Behavioral Health, which operates treatment clinics, said it can be difficult to convince rural residents to try new strategies or devote more resources to fixing the problem; even when a new treatment is science-based, Van Sickle said "there's a lot of 'We've tried that 20 years ago, and it didn't work, so we're not going to try it again,'" Ramseth reports.

Patrick Rezac said his needle-exchange and recovery-support group program One Voice Recovery has had a hard time helping in Carbon County because some residents live too far away to consistently come to meetings or have to navigate unpaved roads. He recommended more treatment and detox centers in rural Utah, and said rural residents who seek help often have to wait for days. The wait "can mean the difference between getting clean and dying of an overdose," Rezac said.

Lee Peacock, president of the Utah Petroleum Association, said oil and gas companies are having difficulty hiring rural residents because so many are addicted to opioids.

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, who created a task force on opioids in conjunction with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency last year, said Wednesday that many Utahns' independence and strong religious sentiment can sometimes prevent them from asking for help with addiction. He urged addicts to stop worrying about judgment from others and get the help they need.

At Wednesday's meeting, Hazlet "urged state and local officials to apply for grants the federal agency is offering. These include cash for telemedicine and distance learning to be used to address opioid issues, and other funds for new community facilities, such as mobile treatment clinics," Ramseth reports.

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