In 2009, 310 Utahns died of non-illicit drug overdose deaths, an increase from the 277 who died in 2008. Prescription drug overdoses are the number one cause of injury deaths in Utah, killing more people each year than car crashes.
The deaths occurred equally among males and females and took place in 21 of Utah’s 29 counties. The average age at time of death was 41 years; the youngest victim was just 17, and the oldest was 86. Nearly all of the deaths (89.3 percent) involved opioids such as oxycodone or methadone.
“After a decrease in 2008, it’s tremendously disheartening to see the number of deaths increasing again,” said UDOH Executive Director Dr. David Sundwall. “We have a serious problem in this state …”
According to the State Medical Examiner, Utah has experienced a 400 percent increase in prescription drug deaths since 2000. A 2006 study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found Utah had the highest rate in the nation for nonmedical use of prescription pain relievers. [emphasis added]
Lots of public health and law enforcement groups are involved:
“This problem is due to a complex set of factors and is unlikely to go away on its own,” said UDOH State Epidemiologist Dr. Robert Rolfs. “Sustained and coordinated efforts by law enforcement, substance abuse prevention, health care providers, and public health will be needed if we are to prevent these avoidable deaths.”
Several organizations in Utah are combining efforts to combat the growing epidemic. The Utah Pharmaceutical Drug Crime Project is a collaboration among law enforcement, substance abuse providers and public health.
The Department of Environmental Quality is coordinating statewide ‘Clean Out Your Medicine Cabinet’ efforts to encourage proper disposal of unused medications. The state Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health has named prescription drug abuse as a top priority. And a Utah physician has established the not-for-profit Zero Unintentional Deaths campaign.
For more information on these and other efforts visit www.UseOnlyAsDirected.org
Correlation is not causation. Yet correlation does suggest where to look for causal relationships.
And, what Utah is known for is that it is the state most dominated by a single church.
Occam’s Razor suggests that we start with these three ideas:
- The LDS church causes prescription drug abuse.
- Prescription drug abuse causes the LDS church.
- Both the LDS church and prescription drug abuse are caused by some other factor that is correlated with both — like altitude or great powder.
These points are incendiary: there’s no way to avoid that … unlike … say … people around here popping pills into their mouths.
What I’d hope is that as the heat turns to enlightenment that you realize that the argument you make about a particular bullet point ought to by symmetric; for example, if it suggests a positive correlation going up, that correlation ought to hold going down too.
Oh … and causation requires some sort of temporal ordering with the cause preceding the effect. So consider:
- The LDS church came before prescription drug abuse.
- Prescription drug abuse came before the LDS church.
- Both the LDS church and prescription drug abuse were preceded by some other factor that is correlated with both — like Europeans coming to America.
FWIW: I wrote this post about a year ago, and sat on it to see if my temper cooled off. It didn’t, and I’ve seen no change in the attitude around here that drug abusers “lose battles with their personal demons” rather than “lose battle with societal pressures”.