Utah’s Problem: Prescription Drug Misuse

prescription medicationFor more than a decade, the misuse of prescription painkillers has been a significant problem in Utah. Between 2000 and 2015, the state experienced a 400 percent increase in deaths due to prescription drugs.1

In the past year, 117,000 Utahans over the age of 12 misused pain relievers within the last year, according to data from SAMHSA’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health.2

The epidemic may have been fueled by overprescribing.  Doctors in the state wrote opioid prescriptions at a rate higher than the national average in 2015.3

While prescription opioid deaths in the state dipped in 2016, the number of heroin deaths has been steadily increasing in recent years.3 Unfortunately, 80 percent of current heroin users start off by misusing prescription meds. 


Opioid Misuse: Three Waves

Nationwide, the opioid epidemic occurred in three waves (according to the CDC)4:

First wave - Painkiller prescriptions.  In the 1990s there was a sharp increase in the prescribing of opioid based painkillers, resulting in an increase in the amount deadly overdoses towards the end of the decade

Second wave – Heroin overdoses. Beginning in 2010, heroin overdoses increased nationwide. Many heroin users started off using painkillers.

Third wave – Rise of synthetic opioids. Significant increases in overdoses involving synthetic opioids (such as fentanyl) started around 2013.


Learn more about local and national opioid overdoses.


1“Prescription Drug Overdoses.” Violence & Injury Prevention Program: Utah Department of Health. Source: http://health.utah.gov/vipp/topics/prescription-drug-overdoses/

2 Source: 2015-2016 National Surveys on Drug Use and Health: Model-Based Estimated Totals, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

3“Utah Opioid Summary.” National Institute on Drug Abuse. Source: https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/opioids/opioid-summaries-by-state/utah-opioid-summary

​4 Source: "Understanding the Epidemic." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Division of Unintentional Injury Prevention.