The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a press release on Nov. 17 with the sobering news that the United States reached a record number of deaths from drug overdose in a 12-month period for the period ending in April 2021. There were an estimated 100,306 deaths, a 28.5% increase over the year before, and it is the first time the number has surpassed 100,000. A substantial percentage of those deaths were due to opioids, including synthetic opioids such as fentanyl.

Congressional Representative John Curtis, who represents Grand County and is on the congressional subcommittee on health, will be attending a congressional hearing to discuss fentanyl and other dangerous drugs next week. Curtis released a video asking his constituents to share their stories about opioid use and addiction.

“I’d love to go to that hearing armed with information about what’s happening in the district,” Curtis says in the video. To view the video and submit remarks visit curtis.house.gov/share-your-stories.

The opioid crisis had hit rural areas particularly hard. The Utah Rural Opioid Healthcare Consortium was established in 2018 to coordinate resources and expertise to combat opioid use disorder in rural Utah counties. The consortium includes representatives from Grand County and other parts of Southeast Utah.

In 2019, Moab Regional Hospital welcomed Dr. Lauren Prest as a new staff member. Prest has been instrumental in the development of addiction treatment programs at the hospital, and she’s led community workshops and panels to help raise awareness of the issue. [See “Fentanyl use on the rise,” May 13 edition. -ed.] Prest is also a member of the Utah Rural Opioid Healthcare Consortium.

While healthcare providers and community leaders struggle to confront the effects of opioid abuse, lawsuits continue against pharmaceutical companies that manufactured and distributed opioids, marketing them as safe. Recently Grand County declined to participate in a settlement agreement against three companies involved in the making and selling of opioids, choosing instead to continue pursuing litigation. [See “Grand County declines settlement in opioid lawsuit,” Nov. 18 edition. -ed.]

At the same time, policy makers have been crafting plans to address the crisis. President Joe Biden has released a plan to end the crisis with strategies including holding pharmaceutical companies accountable; making prevention, treatment and recovery services available; reforming prescription practices; ceasing to incarcerate people for drug use alone; and stemming the flow of illicit drugs into the United States from other countries.

Curtis recently introduced a bill in congress to expand telehealth services related to substance use disorder treatment, and this summer introduced a bill allowing patients to specify that they do not want to be prescribed opioids.

“So many of the communities that I am privileged to represent are impacted in one way or another by the growing and very tragic opioid epidemic, which has only been amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Curtis wrote in a public statement. He plans to share stories from his constituents with colleagues in congress at the upcoming hearing.

“I want to hear from you and I want to share those stories,” Curtis said in the video.