From January 2020 to January 2021, the Centers for Disease Control projected that 634 people died from an overdose in Utah. That’s an increase of 11.4% from the previous year, showing the overdose epidemic continues to trend upward in the state.
“I personally know several people that we’ve lost due to overdose last year,” said Lanette Denton, a recovery coach with the group Utah Support Advocates for Recovery Awareness.
Denton said she wanted to host an event in Moab to recognize Overdose Awareness Day for a variety of reasons. The awareness campaign focusing on August 31 was created in 2001 to provide communities more information on the dangers of overdosing on drugs. There are now events all over the world and in almost every U.S. state, but to Denton’s knowledge, Overdose Awareness Day hadn’t been officially recognized with an event in Grand County—until this year.
Denton said that she “just really wanted to honor those that we’ve lost.”
USARA will partner with the Moab Regional Hospital for a dinner to mark Overdose Awareness Day on August 31. The event is open to the public and will be a space to learn from those in the Moab community who have struggled and recognize those lost with a moment of silence.
Denton hopes that parents and teachers, in addition to those who are struggling, will attend the Overdose Awareness Day event to educate themselves on what a drug overdose can look like and how to treat it. The event will feature speakers including the mother of a teenager who died from an overdose, an overdose survivor and a first responder. Each will share their story.
“I want so much to help parents in educating them and giving them the power to help their babies,” wrote Dalena Terwilleger, the mother of a teenager who died from an overdose, in an email to the Moab Sun. “We all have a responsibility as a community and as parents to save the lives of our children by pulling our heads out of the sand and actually seeing this issue for what it is.”
“We really just want to educate the public and reduce stigma around substance use disorder,” said Heidi Fuger, a recovery coach at USARA. Substance use disorder is another phrase for drug addiction, defined by the Mayo Clinic as “a disease that affects a person’s brain and behavior and leads to an inability to control the use of a legal or illegal drug or medication.”
“We’re trying to hopefully help people not be afraid to get the help that they need,” Fuger said.
The event will also include an educational session on how to use Narcan, a brand name of naloxone, a drug that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. There will also be information on how to use fentanyl test strips.
Recently, both the hospital and USARA have been trying to raise awareness of the dangers of the synthetic opioid fentanyl. Fentanyl is said to be 50 times more powerful than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine, and is much easier to overdose on. Since fentanyl is cheaper to produce than other opioids, sometimes manufacturers and dealers of illegal drugs will use it to lace or cut other drugs.
The Moab Regional Hospital has found that substance use disorders and mental health issues are the main concerns of members in this community, and have been since 2013. In 2019, they did a complete inventory of the services available in Moab, which allowed them to create relationships and coordinate with local organizations that provided health services. They also brought on Dr. Lauren Prest that year, who now works as the medical director of Mental Health and Recovery Services.
The hospital recently hired new staff to work specifically with substance use disorders, including a psychiatrist and nurse practitioner. They’re also building a new recovery center with help from a $4 million Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration grant.
Historically, it’s been difficult for Moab community members to find help for those issues—patients that needed mental health services would have to go to Grand Junction or Salt Lake City. Christy Calvin, who works in marketing and community relations at the hospital, said the hospital is excited for the ability to help the community locally.
“There’s this huge unmet need in the community,” Calvin said. “Anything we can do to build these kinds of services is very exciting.”
The Overdose Awareness Day event will take place at the Moab Valley Multicultural Center on August 31 at 7 p.m. Participants don’t have to register, but are encouraged to RSVP via the Facebook event page at https://www.facebook.com/events/563500424685631.
What: International Overdose Awareness Day
When: Tuesday, August 31 from 7 to 8:30 p.m.
Where: Moab Valley Multicultural Center (156 North 100 West, Moab)