OGDEN — Ogden’s central core has the second highest rate of opioid overdose deaths in the state.
It isn’t a new place for the city to be, but figures released this week provide additional context behind Weber County’s lawsuit against the nation’s top opioid makers and distributors, one of many across Utah and around the nation. The Utah Department of Health numbers, used in helping state officials craft a series of recommendations in fighting opioid abuse, also underscore a seeming higher concentration of drug issues and problems in the city.
A separate batch of Department of Health data released late last year shows that downtown Ogden had the third highest rate of deaths due to drug overdose or poisoning in Utah from 2015 through 2017. Downtown Ogden corresponds with the 84401 ZIP code, which covers central and western Ogden and extends into part of western Weber County, per Department of Health guidelines.
Ogden, said Mindy Vincent of the Utah Harm Reduction Coalition, has always ranked high in the state in various categories of drug misuse and abuse. Part of it could stem from the city’s function as one of the main urban centers in Utah and the presence of the Northern Utah Community Correctional Center, or NUCCC.
The NUCCC, with 154 beds, serves offenders on probation and parole, a population that’s more potentially susceptible to drug overdosing on re-entering mainstream society, experts say.
Anna Fondario, program manager for the Department of Health’s Violence and Injury Prevention Program, said numerous factors can figure in such statistics, including proximity to a prison.
Whatever the reason, the Department of Health release on Wednesday of findings from an ongoing review of “the growing opioid epidemic” singled out Ogden. From 2014 through 2016, downtown Ogden registered an opioid overdose death rate of 39.1 per 100,000 residents, second only to Carbon and Emery counties, with a collective death rate of 47.7 per 100,000.
The overall state rate is 17.4 deaths per 100,000 people.
Most of the deaths in Ogden, 58%, resulted from prescription opioids, the Department of Health said. But relative to Carbon and Emery counties, the city registered a much higher rate of deaths due to heroin use, 32%. The remaining 10% of deaths stemmed from use of both prescription opioids and heroin.
In Carbon and Emery counties, 94% of opioid deaths stemmed from prescription medicines while heroin accounted for just 6% of the total.
Figures released late last year show that there were 44.2 deaths per 100,000 residents from 2015 through 2017 in downtown Ogden from overdosing on all types of drugs, including opioids. Downtown Salt Lake City topped the list with 68 deaths per 100,000 residents followed by Carbon County, 55 deaths per 100,000.
OPIOIDS: A ‘PUBLIC NUISANCE’
Release of the new opioid data comes as Weber County’s lawsuit against opioid makers winds through court. Just last Tuesday, county commissioners, suing to recoup public costs they say are attributable to opioid abuse, approved a resolution declaring opioid abuse and addiction here a “public nuisance.”
It’s boilerplate language aimed at countering possible legal maneuvering against the suit by the opioid industry. Still, the Department of Health numbers suggest it’s an outsized issue here relative to the rest of the state.
Two Salt Lake City locations, Glendale and Rose Park, ranked behind Carbon and Emery counties and Ogden in opioid overdose deaths. Riverdale ranked sixth, with 27.9 deaths per 100,000 residents.
The Utah Opioid Fatality Review Committee, created by the Department of Health to counter the opioid problem, has come up with several recommendations in response to the review of the situation in Ogden and Carbon and Emery counties.
They include paying particular attention to jail and prison inmates before they’re released, providing them with information on support resources to prevent relapses to drug use, among other things. The recommendations also include increasing access to naloxone, closer scrutiny among health care professionals in prescribing opioids and more.
Vincent launched a needle-exchange program in Ogden for intravenous drug users in 2017 and it continues, once-a-week at the Lantern House, she said. The initiative aims to provide a supply of clean needles to prevent the spread of disease among drug users, and those targeted include heroin, opioid and methamphetamine users.
She also noted increased distribution of naloxone across Utah, used to help counter opioid overdosing. She cited the efforts of the group Utah Naloxone and said the efforts have factored in the overall reduction of deaths related to opioid use in Utah, from a high of 448 in 2016 to a preliminary figure for 2018 of 325.