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Utah Opioid Task Force Convenes to Discuss the Opioid Crisis in Utah

June 26, 2019

This week, the Utah Opioid Task Force convened for their quarterly meeting to discuss the opioid crisis in Utah and consider new programs and resources.

Suicide & Opioid Addiction

Cathy Bledsoe from Hope4Utah presented to the Opioid Task Force on Hope Squads, a peer suicide prevention program. Hope Squads are made up of students elected for their kindness. These students are trained by professionals to watch for at-risk students and identify warning signs, provide friendship, and seek help from adults. The Hope Squad model was created in the late 90s by Greg Hudnall, a principal in the Provo School District who realized that too many lives were being lost and peers were an important tool in solving the problem. Data from the Provo School District has shown that these Hope Squads are invaluable in preventing suicide and that since their creation, student suicides have gone down. There are now 207 schools in Utah participating in the Hope Squad program, with new schools joining in all the time.

“Suicide is important to hear and talk about when fighting the opioid crisis,” said Utah Attorney General Sean D. Reyes. “It’s reaching the root of the problem – that people are in pain and trying to get rid of that pain.”

Along with programs like SafeUT, Hope Squads provide support and resources to students in Utah. Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in youths ages 10-19. Utah alone is ranked 5th in the nation for suicide rates.

The Effect of Opioids on Children

Carrie Jensen from the CJC Program and Allison Smith from RIC-AAU urged the importance of understanding the effect that opioids have on children. When their parents are suffering from addiction, children are at a higher risk for having emotional, cognitive, and behavioral problems. Additionally, Jensen and Smith discussed the effects that tobacco can have on children. One particularly worrisome issue is that vape cartridges can be laced with other drugs such as Fentanyl that can have detrimental effects from addiction to death.

U of U Emergency Opioid Use Disorder Program

Peter Taillac, a Clinical Professor of Emergency Medicine with the University of Utah, and Paula Cook, an Assistant Clinical Professor of Addiction Medicine with the University of Utah, presented on the recovery programs provided by the University Neuropsychiatric Institute (UNI). They explained that addiction is a chronic illness and needs to be treated this way. Currently, when opioid users end up in the emergency department due to overdose or a willingness to get treatment, doctors give them resources and a referral to treatment, which users rarely follow up on. However, this new model proposes that emergency room doctors provide opioid addicts with a prescription for Buprenorphine, a medication that is used to wean users off of opioids, and schedules a follow-up for the user to meet with counselors at UNI. Users are also paired up with peer support coaches who have successfully overcome addiction and are given a case manager. UNI then provides treatment for free to the user for thirty days, after which they contact a community partner to provide housing and other resources for recovering addicts. Compared to the current practice, this model drastically reduces opioid usage of addicts and increases the number of addicts who continue long-term treatment compared. While this service is currently only available at the University Hospital, Professors Taillac and Cook are working with other medical centers to help them adopt the model.

Best of State – Public Works

This year, the Utah Opioid Task Force was honored to be the recipient of the 2018 Best of State Public Works Award. The Best of State Awards recognize outstanding individuals, organizations and businesses in Utah. More than 100 judges review the nominations and determine the winners based on achievement in the field of endeavor, innovation or creativity in approaches, techniques, methods or processes, and contribution to the quality of life in Utah.

The Utah Opioid Task Force is dedicated to combatting the opioid epidemic in Utah and works in collaboration with groups nationally and across the state to address the effects of opioid addiction. You can help combat the opioid crisis by steering clear of opioids, getting rid of unused meds, reaching out if you or someone you know is suffering from opioid addiction, learning to recognize an overdose, and learning how to use a Naloxone kit. Learn more here.

The SafeUT app: together we make a difference

Originally created in 2015 to address the rise of teen suicide in the state, the use of the SafeUT app continues to be an effective way for students to connect with someone who can help. In addition, the ability to send anonymous tips adds one more layer of safety to our schools.

The number of students reaching out increases every year and 2018 experienced the highest rate of use yet.

  • 534 potential school threat tips
  • 218 tips about students with guns
  • 175 tips about planned school attacks
  • 68 tips about “weapons”
  • 61 tips about knives
  • 12 tips about explosives

Additionally, between July of 2017 and October of 2018, clinicians responded to over 1,500 tips or conversations from students who were considering taking their own lives.

For more on the SafeUT app and its impact in Utah, check out Chris Jones’ article from KUTV: SafeUT app is saving lives daily; 1,500 tips on suicide contemplation in 15 months.

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

The SafeUT App is a statewide service that provides real-time interactions straight from your smartphone. Licensed clinicians, from the University Neuropsychiatric Institute at the University of Utah Health, are available 24/7 to respond to all incoming chats, texts, and calls. They provide support and crisis counseling, suicide prevention, and referral services. Additionally, students can submit confidential tips to school administrators on bullying, threats, or violence. 

Visit https://healthcare.utah.edu/uni/safe-ut/ to learn more.

Utah Clergy Trained on SafeUT App and to Assist Teens in Crisis

AG Reyes, Sen. Thatcher, and SafeUT Commission Urge Churches and

Youth to Seek Summer Crisis Support through SafeUT

SALT LAKE CITY June 6, 2016 — Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, State Senator Daniel Thatcher and University Neuropsychiatric Institute (UNI) representatives conducted a training for clergy from across the state on how to use SafeUT app to help teens in crisis. The training, known as “safeTALK,” is a half-day alertness training that prepares anyone over the age of 15, regardless of prior experience or training, to become a suicide-alert helper.

“Suicide is the number one cause of death in our state for children ages 10-17. In fact, the number of teens taking their own lives exceeds the next three teen causes of death all combined,” said Attorney General Reyes. “In the short time since we have introduced the SafeUT app we have already seen kids empowered and lives saved. Today’s training of clergy, from various denominations and ministries, is critical because these men and women yield such influence with the youth in their spiritual care. Our collaboration with clergy, schools, law enforcement, all members of the community along with the professionals at UNI is vital to saving lives.”

“What makes SafeUT so exceptional is that we’ve found a way to connect the people who are in crisis with those who can help,” said Senator Daniel Thatcher. “Suicide is the single deadliest crisis facing our youth. With the SafeUT mobile app, an anonymous chat, text or call could save your life or the life of someone you love. It’s the only way we can tackle something of this magnitude.”

During the six months since the SafeUT app was unveiled, it has been introduced to schools across the state. UNI Representatives have received feedback indicating that the app is working and that lives are being saved. The SafeUT Mobile App provides students confidential and anonymous two-way communication with SafeUT crisis counselors or school staff via one-touch options to “Call Crisisline,” “Chat Crisisline,” or “Submit a Tip.” Students using the mobile app will connect directly to a UNI crisis counselor at the UNI CrisisLine and those calling will be routed to the same. For those who do not have access to a smart phone, the Lifeline number 1-800-273-8255 is also supported by UNI.

Students can download the SafeUT Mobile app at any time and will receive training on how to use SafeUT Services by their school administrators.  The first round of Utah school administrators were trained over the past six months on school implementation. Utah schools are currently participating or will have the opportunity to participate over the next year, but it is not mandatory. As schools enroll in the program, an online tool will be shared to allow students to report crisis or crime through their school’s website.

Most people with thoughts of suicide don’t truly want to die, but are struggling with the pain in their lives. Through their words and actions, they invite help to stay alive. Helpers trained in safeTALK can recognize these invitations and take action by connecting them with life-saving intervention resources. safeTALK-trained helpers are an important part of suicide-safer communities, working alongside intervention resources to identify and avert suicide risks.

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