Wednesday, January 25, 2017

‘Stop the Opidemic’ Utahns Share Stories of Loss, Recovery from Opioid Addiction

(Salt Lake City, Utah) – Opioid abuse is a Utah epidemic. Six Utahns die every week from opioid overdoses. Today, the Utah Department of Health (UDOH) announced the launch of a bold, new campaign, ‘Stop the Opidemic,’ to bring an end to the devastation opioid misuse and addiction has on individuals, families, and communities throughout the state. 

“For nearly nine years, I have investigated these deaths and seen first-hand the devastating reality behind Utah’s addiction to opioids,” said Erik Christensen, chief medical examiner with the UDOH. “The hard-hitting messages and imagery used in the ‘Stop the Opidemic’ campaign are designed to educate Utahns on the dangers of opioids, the signs and symptoms of opioid overdoses, and the importance of having naloxone on-hand whenever someone is using an opioid, whether that’s a prescription for pain or an illicit drug.”

In 2015, 268 Utahns died from a prescription opioid overdose (such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, methadone, or fentanyl), 127 died from illicit opioids such as heroin, and 10 deaths involved both prescription and illicit opioids; an average of 33 deaths each month (13.5 per 100,000 population). An estimated 80% of heroin users started with prescription drugs. Utah ranks 7th highest in the nation for drug overdose deaths (for the years 2013-2015).

The campaign features testimonials of Utahns who have lost family members to heroin overdoses and who are recovering from prescription opioid and heroin addictions. Alema Harrington, a well-known journalist in Utah, shared his story of recovery. Harrington was first exposed to opiates while playing football at Brigham Young University but his dependency on the drugs soon spiraled out of control, leading to heroin use. “There was so much stigma and shame but I was finally willing to be humble enough to ask for help,” said Harrington. “I have a disease. My disease is addiction. Without treatment it will kill me. This is a treatable disease. Regardless of where you are at in your addiction, there is hope.”

With support from the Utah State Legislature, naloxone is more readily available than ever before. Naloxone is a rescue medication that can reverse heroin and prescription opioid overdoses by blocking the effects of opiates on the brain and restoring breathing in minutes. There is no potential for abuse and side effects are rare. As of December 8, 2016, pharmacists in Utah can dispense naloxone, without a prior prescription, to anyone at increased risk of experiencing an opioid overdose or anyone who is concerned about a family member or friend.

Mark Lewis lost his son, Tony, on October 27, 2014 at the age of 27 to a heroin overdose. He became addicted when he was 15-years-old to OxyContin when someone at school gave it to him. “Kids don’t think it can kill you because a doctor prescribes it. They don’t realize how addictive it is,” said Lewis. “I was not aware of naloxone until after Tony died. I found out from his friends that Tony had been saved by naloxone once several years prior. I carry a naloxone kit now, even though Tony is gone, because you never know when you might come up on somebody, anywhere, who has overdosed.”

Signs of an opioid overdose include:
  • Shallow or stopped breathing
  • Small, pinpoint pupils
  • Blue or purple lips and fingernails
  • Limp body and unresponsive
  • Faint heartbeat
  • Gurgling or choking noises
“The dangers of opioids are clear – drug tolerance, physical dependency, addiction, abuse, overdose, and death. It’s time to stop the opidemic,” said Christensen.

To learn more about the campaign, visit

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Media Contact:
Katie McMinn
(o) 801-538-6156
(m) 801-856-6697

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

NEWS ADVISORY - Utahns Share Stories of Loss, Recovery from Opioid Addiction


WHAT: The Utah Department of Health will hold a press conference to launch a new campaign, Stop the Opidemic, and share stories of Utahns who have lost a family member to an opioid overdose as well as those who have overcome heroin and prescription opioid addictions.

WHY: Opioid abuse is a Utah epidemic. Six Utahns die every week from an opioid overdose. Studies show that 80 percent of heroin users started with prescription opioids. These individuals hope that as they share their stories of loss as well as recovery, that it will motivate others to ‘Stop the Opidemic.’   

WHO: Interviews available include:
  • Alema Harrington, recovering from a prescription opioid and heroin addiction
  • Mark Lewis, father of a 27-year-old son who died from a heroin overdose
  • Peter Lake, recovering from a prescription opioid addiction
  • Dennis and Celeste Cecchini, parents of a 33-year-old son who died from a heroin overdose
  • Amber Baum, mother of a daughter who died from a heroin overdose
  • Dr. Erik Christensen, Chief Medical Examiner, Utah Department of Health
WHEN: Wednesday, January 25, 2017 at 10:00 a.m.
WHERE: Utah Department of Health
Room 129
288 North 1460 West
Salt Lake City, Utah 84116


Media Contact:
Katie McMinn
(o) 801-538-6156
(m) 801-856-6697

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Air Quality Recess Guidance for Schools Now Available: Guidance helps principals know when to keep kids inside on bad air days

(Salt Lake City, UT) – With the first major inversion forecast to hit the Wasatch Front this week, parents may be wondering if it’s safe for their children to play outside during school recess. The Utah Departments of Health (UDOH) and Environmental Quality (DEQ) have released updated Recess Guidance for Schools to help principals and school administrators know when to move recess indoors on poor air quality days.

Inversions can be especially hard on children and anyone with certain chronic health conditions like asthma. During the winter, particulate matter (or PM2.5) is the main pollutant of concern as inversions trap cold air and pollution in the valleys. PM2.5 is made up of soot, dust, and vehicle emissions. It’s small enough to get past the body’s natural defense systems and when inhaled, can get deep into the lungs where it becomes trapped, aggravating current health problems. 

The Recess Guidance for Schools recommends that on days when the PM2.5 is:
  • Below 35.4 μg/m3 – All students stay outdoors for recess.
  • Between 35.5 μg/m3 and 55.4 μg/m3 – Students with respiratory symptoms and “sensitive” students stay indoors for recess. Sensitive students may include those with asthma, cystic fibrosis, chronic lung disease, congenital heart disease, compromised immune systems, or other respiratory problems.
  • Above 55.5 μg/m3 – All students stay indoors for recess.
First created in 2004, the Recess Guidance has undergone three major revisions as new research and air quality studies have been completed. Input about how to balance the need for physical activity and keeping children safe from unhealthy air outdoors was sought from school personnel, health scientists, health care professionals, advocacy groups, and parent groups. The guidance aligns with the EPA’s Air Quality Index (AQI) levels and recommendations, and is tailored for the elementary school recess setting.

School administrators are encouraged to check the PM2.5 levels throughout the winter months at least 30 minutes prior to recess. “The Recess Guidance has been critical in helping me know how to help our students stay healthy and safe,” said BJ Weller, principal at Canyon View Elementary.

“The school principal makes the final decision regarding when and where to hold recess. We encourage schools to consider active options for indoor recess should the need arise,” said Brittany Guerra with the UDOH Asthma Program. “Fortunately, data shows there were only a handful of days over the last five years that our guidance recommended all students be kept indoors for recess due to poor air quality.”

Parents, with the advice of their health care provider, should also inform the school if they believe their child is part of a sensitive group and should have limited outdoor physical activity when air quality is poor.

The UDOH also offers daily email alerts during the inversion season to help school administrators know when PM2.5 reaches unhealthful levels and the specific guidance on which students should be kept indoors. To receive the air quality email alerts, send a blank email to

“Using the Recess Guidance has been very helpful in determining whether the air quality is safe for our students to go out and play in. It is so easy to just open the email and have the air quality for our area available without searching and taking a lot of time,” said Trudy Messick, with Renaissance Academy.

To see current PM2.5 levels, download the UtahAir app or visit Copies of the Air Quality Recess Guidance for Schools and video tutorials about how to use the guidance are available at
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Media Contact:
Brittany Guerra
UDOH Asthma Program                                                                           
(o) 801-538-6894 (m) 678-773-3983 

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Utah Adolescents with Potential Eating Disorders more likely to be Suicidal, Suffer from Bullying and Violence

(Salt Lake City, UT) – In 2011 and 2013, 4% of female students and 1.4% of male students in grades 9-12 in Utah public schools met a threshold for underweight combined with eating disordered behaviors, totaling more than 1,000 boys and nearly 3,000 girls in the state. These same students had higher rates of depression, suicide ideation and attempt, bullying, and physical and sexual violence, according to a new report released by the Utah Department of Health (UDOH).

"While we’ve monitored overweight and obesity among adolescents and the associated health risks for years, we haven't looked into the prevalence and health effects of anorexia and eating disorders before now. What we found is that nearly 4,000 adolescents in Utah may be at risk for an eating disorder and that these adolescents have significant physical and mental health risks,” said Michael Friedrichs, UDOH epidemiologist.

The increased risk for adverse physical and mental health problems for adolescents with and without potential eating disorders is startling. The data analysis showed that adolescents with potential eating disorders reported feeling so sad or hopeless for two weeks that they stopped doing their usual activities at a rate of 42.3%, compared to 25.9% of adolescents without a potential eating disorder. Similarly, students with potential eating disorders reported that they considered suicide, made a suicide plan, attempted suicide, and were injured as a result of a suicide attempt at much higher rates than students without an eating disorder.

In addition, adolescents with potential eating disorders reported feeling less safe and reported more experiences of violence, compared to adolescents without a potential disorder. Of those students who reported being bullied on school property, 33.2% had a potential eating disorder, compared to 21.5% of students without. Drastically higher rates of physical and sexual violence by a dating partner (32.2% and 38% respectively) were also found for students with potential eating disorders compared to those without (5.6% physical violence and 9.5% sexual violence).

The UDOH analyzed data from the 2011 and 2013 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) to determine the rates of potential eating disorders among Utah adolescents and the associated adverse health experiences. Adolescents with potential eating disorders were defined as students with a Body Mass Index (BMI) below the 15th percentile and who reported they had one or more disordered eating behaviors. The most commonly reported disordered eating behaviors for underweight adolescents were trying to lose weight (12.1%), followed by fasting for 24 hours or more to lose weight (8.8%), vomiting or using laxatives to lose weight (4.2%), and taking diet pills (1.7%). All of these behaviors had higher rates for girls.

“Prevention and early intervention of these behaviors is critical to the long-term health and well-being of our young people,” said Megan Waters, violence prevention specialist with the UDOH. “We recommend that healthcare providers screen adolescents for eating disorders and associated risk behaviors and that trainings for school personnel and parents be made available to help them better understand the connections between eating disorders and other behaviors such as suicide ideation and dating violence.”

A copy of the report can be found at Information on risk behaviors such as suicide and dating violence can be found at

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Media Contact:
Megan Waters
Violence & Injury Prevention Program
(o) 801-538-6626

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

New Plan Unveiled to Help Stop Suicides in Utah

(Salt Lake City, UT) – Suicide prevention experts from the Utah Department of Health (UDOH), Utah Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health (DSAMH), and Utah Suicide Prevention Coalition unveiled a new plan to help stop suicides in Utah. The plan couldn’t be timelier; as suicide claimed 609 Utahns in 2015, for a rate of 24.5 per 100,000 population ages 10+. Every suicide death causes a ripple effect of immeasurable pain to individuals, families, and communities throughout the state.

“Everyone plays a role in suicide prevention and it is up to each one of us to help create communities which are strong in factors that protect people from suicide,” said Andrea Hood, suicide prevention expert with the UDOH. “The new plan outlines strategies to help communities accomplish this by describing ways to improve resiliency, crisis response, mental health treatment, and early identification of mental health conditions.”

Suicide is a complex issue influenced by individual, family, relational, community, and societal factors. Prevention strategies must address the factors that increase risk for suicide and the factors that protect from suicide risk. The new Utah Suicide Prevention Plan is structured around the following protective factors:
  • Increasing availability and access to quality physical and behavioral health care
  • Increasing social norms supportive of help-seeking and recovery
  • Reducing access to lethal means, such as firearms
  • Increasing connectedness to individuals, family, community, and social institutions by creating safe and supportive school and community environments
  • Increasing safe media portrayals of suicide and adoption of safe messaging principles
  • Increasing coping and problem solving skills
  • Increasing support to survivors of suicide loss
  • Increasing prevention and early intervention for mental health problems, suicide ideation and behaviors, and substance misuse
  • Increasing comprehensive data collection and analysis regarding risk and protective factors for suicide to guide prevention efforts
“Over the last few years our state has come a long way in understanding and addressing suicide. This plan represents the progress we have made and the foundation we have built for suicide prevention,” said Kim Myers, suicide prevention coordinator with the DSAMH.

The new plan highlights evidence-based strategies that are tried and true steps communities can take to build resiliency, create safety nets for those in crisis, and ultimately save lives in Utah. The plan also has a greater emphasis on social connectedness than previous statewide efforts.

The Utah Suicide Prevention Coalition will oversee implementation of the plan. The coalition is a partnership of community members, suicide survivors, service providers, researchers, and others dedicated to saving lives and advancing suicide prevention efforts in Utah. To learn how to get involved or for a copy of the plan, visit

“We have a more comprehensive, collaborative approach to suicide prevention in Utah than ever before,” said Hood. “Our hope is that the strategies we are all working so hard on will save lives and bring hope to those who are feeling alone or hopeless, because each life matters.”

All suicidal thoughts, behaviors, and attempts should be taken seriously. Get help 24/7 by calling the Statewide CrisisLine at 801-587-3000 or the National Suicide Prevention LifeLine at 1-800-273-TALK. Help is also available online at Trained consultants will provide free and confidential crisis counseling to anyone in need.

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Media Contacts:
Andrea Hood, UDOH
(o) 801-538-6599 (m) 801-913-6304
Kimberly Myers, DSAMH
(m) 801-633-2408