The Problem: Learn the Facts

Prescription Opioid Deaths in Utah, 2011

Download February 2012 Fact Sheet

In Utah, the illegal use of prescription pain medications has reached epidemic proportions. Since 2000, the number of deaths due to overdose of prescription pain medication has increased over 400%.1 In fact, more deaths were associated with overdose than from car crashes.2

Currently, the number one growing concern in Utah is non-medical use of prescription pain medications, due to their easy availability. According to the 2008 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), more than one-third of Utahns had received a prescription for pain medication. Many of these people keep their leftover medication, which can be a risk for misuse, abuse and unintended poisoning. Also, 90% reported obtaining a prescription pain medication, without a doctor’s prescription, from a friend or family member.3 The most recent 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health reports an estimated 5.3 million persons used pain relievers non-medically in the surveyed month.4

According to the 2008 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), more than one-third of Utahns had received a prescription pain medication. Many of these people keep their leftover medication, which can be a risk for misuse, abuse and unintended poisoning.

Since 2000, the number of deaths due to overdose of prescription pain medication has increased over 400%.1

In 2009, prescription drugs passed cocaine/crack as the fourth highest drug of choice in Utah.5

Of those admitted to the public treatment system in 2009, prescription drugs passed cocaine/crack as the fourth highest drug of choice in Utah. Admissions to these systems for prescription drug abuse have risen 66% over the past four years.5

Of concern is the high rate of prescription drug overdose deaths. In calendar year 2007, Utah had 317 deaths attributed to non-illicit drug overdoses, and while this number dropped to 277 in calendar year 2008, in 2006 Utah was the second highest in the nation for individuals over 26, and fourth highest for individuals over 12 in the non-medical use of pain relievers.6

In 2009, the Student Health and Risk Prevention (SHARP) survey asked students around the state of Utah if they had ever used narcotic prescription drugs (such as OxyContinTM, methadone, morphine, codeine, DemerolTM, VicodinTM, or PercocetTM) without a doctor telling the student to take them. Nearly 10% of 12th graders reported they had used narcotic prescription drugs without a doctor’s prescription.7

There were approximately 1.2 million visits by individuals to hospital emergency rooms involving pharmaceutical drugs in 2009.  This compares to about 974,000 visits involving illicit drugs in 2009.8

Additionally, while visits to emergency rooms involving illicit drugs have remained relatively stable at just under 1 million visits per year from 2004 to 2009, visits involving pharmaceutical drugs have almost doubled – increasing by 98 percent over the past five years.  In 2009, there were approximately 1.2 million visits to emergency rooms involving pharmaceutical drugs, compared to 627,000 in 2004.  These visits do not include adverse reactions to pharmaceuticals taken as prescribed.9

The proper use, storage, and disposal of prescription pain medications can do much to correct this problem. For the safety of your family, neighbors, friends, and environment, please use, store and dispose of your prescription pain medications “only as directed.”