By Debbie Marvidikis, Southeast Utah Health Department
Dear readers of the “Little Cities of Hope” series: I believe it’s been a while since we’ve had an update on our opioid crisis, and I know most of us can remember our little city making the news for our loved ones overdosing and dying. And you, like most of us that live and work in our little cities, said, “That’s enough. We’re dying, and we need to do something about it.”
So, I wanted to drop you a line and tell you we have done something about it. Now, don’t get me wrong, we have a ways to go, but what we are doing is making a difference. I want to update you and tell you that our opioid overdose deaths have declined in our little cities, and that’s because we put many protective and legal factors into place.
This has included working with and educating our community on what opioids are, how easily they can become habit forming, and how easily they can take our lives. It is not just in death, but in the destructive power that the use of opioids in ways that are not prescribed seems to create wherever they go.
I also wanted to share a frightening and potential crisis with you: illegal fentanyl. Many of us have read about illegal substances that might be laced with fentanyl. And maybe, just maybe for a second, we might not have a lot of sympathy for that potential problem. But friends and neighbors: I want to share with you that it is NOT a moral failure. It is a mistake that will take the lives of those we love and take that life away too soon.
We are finding some marijuana laced with fentanyl, which is not expected. Even a seasoned person who uses substances is surprised to find out their marijuana is laced with fentanyl, a deadly synthetic opioid. The problem is that our young ones who are experimenting won’t have the chance to grow out of this phase. Let’s be honest, they don’t have a tolerance to fentanyl that is 100 times more potent than morphine. They don’t know that their marijuana may be laced with fentanyl because they’re not expecting that it would be. Like most things in prevention, we start with education, put laws into place, and create solutions to protect us and our loved ones.
We did that with opioids; we changed the prescribing guidelines, insurance companies joined the fight and we changed how many opioids a person really should have to manage their pain. We educate people on an opioid, including what it is and what it will do. We promoted the “use only as directed campaign” and we provide free Narcan that has saved the lives of many using opioids.
These are just a few things off the top of my head that we’ve been able to accomplish. So then, if some marijuana is laced with fentanyl, then fentanyl education is an excellent place to start. Tell your friends and your family that it is possibly in marijuana and counterfeit pills that look like prescriptions. The Southeast Utah Health Department has fentanyl test strips free of charge and will educate you on how to use them.
We can do some things to protect ourselves and others from overdoses. First, for people who are using anything not purchased from a pharmacy or dispensary, it is a good idea to test it with the fentanyl test strips beforehand. Start small, don’t use alone and ensure that you have Narcan on hand.
We can all make a difference, and we have, but we need to continue our efforts to keep our loved ones safe! For more information on the opioid crisis and what you can do to help, please contact Debbie Marvidikis at (435) 636-1176.
For resource books for our area, visit extension.usu.edu/heart/community-education-dinner for the online copy.