Chances are, everyone knows or will know someone addicted to prescription drugs. Sadly, prescription drug abuse is the #1 cause of death in Utah, not to mention it’s a financial drain on state funds. Crime is associated with this addiction (over 80% of petty crimes have a tie to drug addiction) as well as it’s a nexus for many other types of crime, including theft and traffic violations, too. As a legislator, I’m working to inform everyone about the addictive and dangerous nature of prescription drugs.
I became aware of the problems with prescription drug abuse almost by accident. A doctor by the name of Alan Colledge had been emailing the entire legislature with “red alert” messages. The problem was that since he was sending the same letter to everyone, we all assumed that someone else would answer it and no one did. However, the letters kept coming so finally I replied that maybe we could get together some time after the session was over. Well that was all Doctor Colledge needed. He focused in on me and began contacting me to see when we could get together. At this same time, my intern from the previous session invited me to come speak to his political science class. We had a great discussion on state government. At the end of it we talked about possible future appearances and I recalled the repeated attempts by Alan Colledge to get together with me. I saw a great way to kill two birds with one stone. I mentioned to the professor that I would like to have a round table to discuss prescription drug abuse and possible governmental solutions. We set a time and I asked Dr. Collledge to bring some people to participate in the round table.
Dr. Colledge brought a couple of pain management specialists, and the mother of an addict and a former addict. They all told incredibly heart wrenching stories and by the end of it, I had gone from having a casual interest to being fully engaged and ready to do something about it. That next legislative session, I passed a bill calling for a commission to study prescribing practices and abuse. The bill also set aside some money for a public awareness campaign. That became the first of many pieces of legislation over the years that have dealt with prescription drug abuse. I am grateful to say that since 2007 when I ran my first bill on this topic we have seen deaths from prescription drug abuse begin to decline for the first time in ten years. As of 2011 the downward trend is still continuing. Here is a news story from last Fall showing the trend.
We still have a very long way to go - deaths from prescription drug overdoses are still higher than automobile accidents, but its good to see the trend going down.