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Utah Suicide Rate Decreases for First Time in Over a Decade

November 15, 2019

For the first time in over a decade, Utah’s suicide rate fell slightly in 2019, according to the fiscal year 2019 report of State Suicide Prevention Programs by the state Division of Mental Health and Substance Abuse. This decrease means that we are doing something right, but the work isn’t done. Now is the time to increase our efforts.

According to the report, the suicide rates dropped from 22.7 to 22.2. “The decrease is not statistically significant nor does it represent a trend change, however, it is worth noting given the year-over-year increase for many years,” said the report. Suicide remains a leading cause of death in the State of Utah. An average of 592 Utahns die by suicide each year, and an average of 4,538 Utahns attempt suicide.

Below is an excerpt from an article written by Marjorie Cortez in the Deseret News: After decade of increases, Utah’s suicide rate dropped slightly in 2018, report says.

At first glimpse, there was a lot of excitement, even tears, when the 2018 data indicated Utah’s suicide rate had not increased over the previous year, said Michael Staley, with the Utah Office of the Medical Examiner.

“Then there was this moment of pause, where we kind of had to look around and say, ‘But what does this mean?’

“I think that is so important to remind folks this is not the time to pack our bags and go home and call this a win. This is the time to double down on what we’re doing because there’s evidence here, even though it’s kind of arbitrary and not causal, but there seems to be some suggestion here that what we’re doing is working,” said Staley, who coordinates suicide prevention research.

Barry Rose, crisis services manager for the University Neuropsychiatric Institute, said the slight decrease “at least indicates we’re on the right track and we’ve made some investments that are paying off.”

Reducing suicide deaths “was really our first major goal, not that our group here is the reason this happened, but we would like to think we were part of it. I think all of us collectively, our goal as the state, county mental health division and everyone involved, is just to see we could stop it from increasing, at least to level off, and continue to work toward decreasing those numbers,” he said.

Much work remains, Staley said.

Suicide is the seventh-leading cause of death in Utah, and the suicide rates in the Rocky Mountain states lead the nation. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Utah’s suicide rate ranks sixth nationally. Montana has the highest rate followed by Alaska, Wyoming, New Mexico and Idaho, according to the foundation.

The most recent data says 6,039 Utahns were seen in emergency departments for suicide attempts, according to 2014 numbers, and 2,314 Utahns were hospitalized for self-inflicted injuries including suicide attempts.

The Division of Mental Health and Substance Abuse report also notes that self-reported suicide attempts decreased from 7.1% to 6.9% from 2017 to 2019 after multiple years with increases.

Utilization of the SafeUT app, which provides 24/7 real-time crisis intervention for youths, is also growing. In the month of October, the app received 3,700 tips and chats.

Suicide prevention starts with each of us. Download the SafeUT app, reach out to those around you, listen without prejudice, and offer support.

If you or someone you know is struggling and/or having thoughts of suicide, please reach out. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text the Crisis Text Line (text HELLO to 741741), or message a trained crisis counselor through the SafeUT app. These support lines are available 24/7, 365 days a year.

The Utah Attorney General’s Office is proud to partner with organizations such as the Jason Foundation, the SafeUT Commission, the University Neuropsychiatric Institute (UNI), and Life’s Worth Living Foundation. These organizations help raise awareness of the prevalence of suicide in the State of Utah and provide resources and education on suicide prevention.

Opioids Have Killed at Least 460,000 Americans

October 25, 2019

Opioids have killed at least 460,000 Americans over the last 20 years. That’s approaching the death toll of World War II and the Vietnam War combined.

It is a priority of the Utah Attorney General’s Office to combat the opioid crisis in Utah. The AG’s Office has joined states across the nation in multiple lawsuits against some of the nation’s largest pharmaceutical companies, such as Purdue Pharmaceuticals – a company that additionally faces hundreds of lawsuits by other government entities. There are many more ongoing investigations regarding the company’s primary impact on the opioid crisis.

That’s not all.  There are many more lawsuits filed against pharmaceutical companies from other states, cities, counties, and Native American tribes. Below is an excerpt from the Deseret News article, Opioids killed at least 460,000 Americans, Now the manufacturers face a reckoning, detailing the process.

While settlements and rumors of cash awards circulate, the sheer volume of lawsuits and proposals and different governments involved — including states and cities and Native American tribes — means any final award tally is very much up in the air.

Lawsuits may be negotiated separately, then there’s a process for determining who gets what and that’s bound to be complicated, with formulas that consider many different factors. Those factors include how big a state’s population is and how severe the problem has been in each one, income levels and more, said Richard Piatt, spokesman for Utah’s Attorney General’s Office. It amounts to a lot of moving pieces — and the process can move quite slowly.

Nor is all the help coming from lawsuits. The Trump administration announced in September $1.8 billion in grants to help states and local governments combat the opioid epidemic, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Utah’s share is $24 million.

Opioids Killed at least 460,000 Americans. Now the manufacturers face a reckoning.
By Lois M. Collins, Deseret News

The opioid crisis affects people of every age, gender, race, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status. The Utah Attorney General’s Office urges everyone to safely, and appropriately dispose of unused and expired medications in your home to help combat the opioid crisis. Tomorrow is Utah Take Back Day from 10 AM to 2 PM across the state. Find the disposal box closest to you at utahtakeback.org.

In addition, Walgreens houses medication disposal boxes in their stores. Riverton City recently launched a new medication disposal program that integrated large, blue disposal boxes containing NarcX, a solution that dissolves and destroys opioid medications.

If you or someone you know is struggling with opioid addiction, make sure you keep a Naloxone kit on hand – you will save a life.

Is Utah the Fraud Capital of the U.S.?

April 30, 2019

Yes. Yes, we are.

Utah has a long-held reputation as the fraud capital of the United States, mostly based on anecdotal evidence. But a nationwide Ponzi scheme database that Florida attorney Jordan Maglich compiled offers proof that the ignominious label appears deserved…

Overall, Utah investors lost over $1.5 billion in those [Ponzi] scams over those 10 years. The number does not include other affinity frauds and investment scams which Pugsley estimates account for another $500 million in losses to Utah residents.

Does Utah deserve the title ‘fraud capital of the United States’?
by Dennis Romboy for Deseret News

One of the priorities of the Utah Attorney General’s office is to prosecute those who participate in fraudulent and criminal activity. In an effort to better protect citizens from financial fraud, the Utah AG created a White Collar Crime Offender Registry.

White collar crimes are characterized by deceit, concealment, or a violation of trust. Those who commit these crimes are often motivated by the desire to avoid losing money, property, or to secure a financial advantage.

Protect yourself from fraudulent investments by being in the know. Before making a financial investment – check the Registry.

Photo by Michael Longmire

Another Look at the SafeUT App

December 13, 2018

The need for mental health services on college campuses is growing. More and more students are seeking assistance for issues like depression or anxiety and Utah college administrators are taking notice. As they work to meet the increasing demands, one option they are pointing students towards for help is the SafeUT App. Read all about how colleges in the state are working to help students below. 

 Deseret News: Utah colleges want students to know it’s OK for me to say ‘I need help’

The SafeUT App is effective at providing students with real-time, practical help in the form of crisis counseling, suicide prevention, or referral services. Additionally, students can submit confidential tips to school administrators on threats, violence, or bullying.

The SafeUT program was developed with funding from the Utah State Legislature in collaboration with the Utah Attorney General’s Office, Utah State Office of Education, Utah Anti-Bullying Coalition, and the University Neuropsychiatric Institute

_____________________________________

Take a look at some of the history and success of the SafeUT App from the last year.

KSL5TV: AG Reyes Talks About SafeUT App with KSL

*Florida reference to Parkland, FL shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas Highschool

KSL-TV: Safe Schools: SafeUT app uniquely managed by social workers, mental health professionals

Deseret News: SafeUT app making inroads despite 36 youth suicides so far in 2017

Deseret News: University of Utah shouldering growing costs of SafeUT app as use proliferates

Attorneygeneral.utah.gov: https://attorneygeneral.utah.gov/safeut-app-downloaded-over-5000-times/

Attorneygeneral.utah.gov: https://attorneygeneral.utah.gov/safeutfeatures/

New stats: Overdose deaths down 12% in Utah

The reality of the opioid and drug epidemic in Utah can seem daunting and bleak, but change is happening. Recently, Utah recorded a 12% decrease in overdose deaths from the past year, which is the nation’s second-largest drop. Targeted action by leaders across the state of Utah to raise awareness, educate, and improve access to resources and treatment is proving effective. 

“When we work together, we work best,” Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said earlier this year. “There is hope. As devastating as this issue is, working together we can overcome and eradicate this threat from our communities.” 

Slowly, but surely.

Deseret News wrote about the findings, the cautious optimism of leaders, and state initiatives moving forward. Read the entire article here: Utah’s overdose deaths fall 12% despite nationwide surge

You can keep this trend going by learning more about opioids, treatment, and how to take action at Stop the Opidemic

 

Photo by Thought Catalog

Op-ed: The disputed special election letter and the ethical path forward

In an op-ed published in the Deseret News, Attorney General Sean Reyes discussed the ethical problems around the draft-opinion on the CD 3 special election. 


Much attention has been focused on a draft legal opinion prepared by my office regarding Utah’s special elections process. Some of the related conjecture is true. Some of it merits clarification.

Despite attempts to characterize this as an open records issue, or a choice among political favorites, this has always been solely an issue of legal ethics. The core discussion is whether an attorney general can represent the state without being compelled to harm the very client he or she is bound by the constitution to defend.

Should the Legislature, the press and the public be able to examine the draft opinion? I believe so. When the credible threat of litigation has passed and our ability to defend our client is not compromised, releasing the opinion would be appropriate. To be clear, I would not release our communications or advice to the client without its consent. However, once ethical guidelines permit, we can comply with the original request from the Legislature clarifying its own special election duties.

Conflicting responsibilities

Let’s rewind to May of this year when Jason Chaffetz announced he would resign from Congress. At that point, the State faced an unprecedented situation. Governor Herbert felt that state law had already given the executive branch control of the nature and timing of a special election to replace the congressman. The governor and his team consulted with my office in making that determination. The Utah Legislature, consistent with advice from its own legal counsel, disagreed, feeling that the new situation required new legislation. Reasonable arguments could be made on either side. The Governor proceeded to set the terms of the election without calling a special legislative session. The Legislature indicated that it may seek legal redress. Other parties hinted at or openly threatened litigation based on the Governor’s chosen course as well.

Around this time, the Legislature requested my office prepare an opinion letter regarding duties of the Legislature in a special election. To comply with the tight timeframe of the request, attorneys in our office prepared a response while our executive team examined the propriety of the request. The request came through a seldom used law, the practice of which has become disfavored by courts and attorneys general around the country over the past decades. In Utah, only a handful of such opinions have been rendered over the past twenty years as they have no binding weight and often cause more confusion than clarity.

In the rare instances when such opinions are rendered, attorney general offices consider a number of practical and ethical factors before issuing one. No attorney general in the nation would issue an opinion where the request relates to current or threatened litigation. Another disqualifying factor, in many cases, is when separate branches of government are in conflict over the subject matter. In this instance, both disqualifiers were present and the prudent ethical course was to withhold the draft opinion despite having prepared one.

In addition, because the Legislature requested information so closely related to privileged advice already provided to the Governor, this created an added layer of concern. In fact, when my office consulted the State Bar Office of Professional Conduct, the director indicated that sending the opinion to the Legislature over the objection of our client, the Governor, could constitute a violation of our own ethical duties as lawyers. Our responsibility to respond to the Legislature could be viewed as directly in conflict with our duty to protect confidences of our client and could impact our ability to defend litigation brought against our client.

In normal situations, information requests from multiple agencies doesn’t create a problem. In this case, with the Legislature at odds with the Governor over a special election in process, the problem was unsolvable. Advising both on the same legal matter creates a conflict of interest, that neither the rules of professional conduct, legal precedent, nor state statutes can safely remedy or avoid. There was no ethical path forward.

The attorney general’s decision

My attorneys and I are public servants who have taken an oath to uphold the law and to do so in an ethical manner. Rather than place the office in an untenable ethical position, I made the conscious decision to honor our client’s wishes and do what any other ethical attorney general would do when disqualifying circumstances exist, and withhold the opinion. No one in the Governor’s office has seen the proposed opinion nor has any idea what it contains.

I’m confident my decision is the right one. We have worked diligently, for nearly four years, to restore public trust in this office. In the fog of conflicting standards, I was unwilling to risk an ethical mark on our record. Releasing the draft letter would put our office too close to the line of violating standards we have sworn to uphold.

If we made a mistake, it was in beginning to work on the opinion while the issue was still unresolved. On the other hand, as Attorney General I need to retain independence to exercise my lawful duties and had I deemed it proper, we wanted to have the opinion prepared as requested.

Seeking clarity

So where to from here? The bottom line is that we need precision in the law and rules regarding Utah’s independent Attorney General’s office. I plan to partner with stakeholders to provide the definitions needed so when this issue rises again, we have clear standards. We can achieve this clarity along four paths.

First, the Utah State Bar can clarify the standards that apply to the attorney general’s office as a unique law practice. This is already in process. My office has submitted the issue to the Bar and eagerly awaits their carefully considered recommendations.

Second, the Legislature can seek a writ of mandamus from the Supreme Court or other action to clarify the duties of an independent Attorney General’s Office. I would welcome this action.

Third, we can work with our partners in the Legislature to address the issues through legislative action.

Fourth, the attorney general can continue to make decisions — as I have here — limited by conflicting rules, statutes and constitutional responsibilities. This is probably the least desirable option.

It’s worth noting that none of the core issues were addressed by the recent records committee decision, nor could they be. This issue is larger than curiosity about a single draft opinion. Someday, that letter will be released. I believe that day should be soon, after reasonable danger of litigation has passed.

In the meantime, let’s begin to resolve the larger issues that led to the impasse.

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