SALT LAKE CITY — Heroin overdose deaths have soared in Utah, more than tripling since 2007 as the U.S. struggles with an opioid epidemic, according to a new report.
A study by the Kaiser Family Foundation says 166 Utah residents fatally overdosed on heroin in 2016, compared with 127 a year before, the Deseret News reported .
The number of heroin overdose deaths in the state never reached triple digits from 2007 to 2012, with the toll in the 50s in three of those years, according to the report that used data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
It also said overall opioid overdose deaths in Utah have lingered at about 600 every year from 2013 to 2016. That showed a slowdown in the rapid growth of such deaths, which spiked from 409 in 2007 to 597 in 2013.
Opioid experts said the trend demonstrates the well-beaten path from prescription painkillers to heroin. The Utah Department of Health said 80 percent of people who are addicted to heroin nationwide first became hooked on a prescription drug.
“When they get to a point where they can’t get prescription opioids, where they can’t afford them, then they’re turning to heroin because it’s cheaper to get,” health department spokeswoman Jenny Johnson said.
It is critical that doctors don’t “just cut them off” without a plan for how patients will overcome their dependence, said Jennifer Plumb, medical director of the Utah Naloxone Association and an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Utah.
Otherwise, she said, “they, unfortunately, are forced in that direction” of heroin.