To most people, Utah seems an unlikely place to have a high rate of prescription drug abuse. Of the 50 states in the US, Utah ranks eighth in prescription drug abuse according to Susannah Burt, with the state’s Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health. Burt says following a decline in use in 2008, the number of prescription drug deaths in Utah over the past ten years has increased by 400 percent. CNN recently aired a program hosted by Lisa Ling profiling the problem in Utah. Ling and her team spent 12 days in the state meeting with church leaders, people in recovery and people who were still addicted.
Ling said she always assumed Utah had low levels of addiction due to its large Mormon population. More than 60 percent of those living there are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Most Mormons don’t even drink coffee complying with their religion’s ‘Word of Wisdom’ a health law that strongly discourages people from consuming things that are harmful to their bodies. Although many of them have been able to adhere to the Word of Wisdom, they have fallen victim to pill addiction because doctor prescribed medications fall into a grey area.
A mother and daughter agreed to be interviewed about their addiction. The mother said she had injured her ankle skateboarding and her doctor gave her a prescription for painkillers. She said the pills enabled her to feel that she could cope with everything so she continued to take them. When she could no longer get them by prescription she turned to an online source to remain supplied with the pills, she also began taking tranquilizers in combination with the painkiller. When asked how long it took for her to become addicted, she replied, “About three weeks.” She related that she was very ashamed of her addiction and that on one occasion, when having visitors at her house she passed out in a chair. Her daughter, in her twenties and also addicted said she finally stopped using drugs when she looked at her addicted friends and realized none of them would live to be thirty if they kept using drugs. Both women are currently drug free.
People in Utah are no less vulnerable than anyone else to prescription medication addiction despite their otherwise generally healthier lifestyle. They, like many others, wrongly believe that if a medication is prescribed by a physician it must be fine. Ling said that a year ago she met a young woman named Shannon in Los Angeles; she had just arrived from her hometown of Salt Lake City with her 10 month old baby. Ling said, “I was surprised to learn why she left the predominantly Mormon state known for its clean, healthy lifestyle to move to a city known for life’s excesses.” The young mother said she was trying to escape from what she called “an epidemic.” Shannon said that Utah was, “drowning in prescription pill addiction.” She mentioned that she had been abusing heroin for some time but that it had all started with pills.
The particular tragedy of prescription drug abuse is that many people get started by taking them for a legitimate purpose such as for pain following an injury or disease and then become addicted and unable to stop using the drug. They are not the kind of people one normally pictures as ‘addicted.’ Doctors should prescribe only the minimum amount of pills necessary and at a dosage that can always be increased later if the pain is not managed. Refills should be prescribed only if absolutely necessary. Many times, over-the-counter pain medication works in lieu of stronger painkillers.
Ling commented, ”While the Mormon church hierarchy certainly isn’t proud of the exploding numbers , it didn’t hide from the issue, giving us access to talk to those dealing with the struggles of addiction. They allowed me into their world because they acknowledge pill addiction is a huge problem within their community and they know they need help. The people I spent time with are incredibly brave; particularly Shannon who I’m happy to report has been clean for quite a while now. I will always be grateful for their courage in sharing their stories.”
At Sovereign Health, we understand how the environment surrounding a person can help lead them toward a life of addiction. This is why we highly suggest that the person recovering move to another location while they are going through treatment; as to help lower the possibility of relapse. If you want to learn more about our treatment programs, please call 866-524-5504.
Written by Sovereign Health Group writer Veronica McNamara