by Becky GINOS
LAYTON—Americans are slowly self-medicating themselves to death. In 2016, 64,000 died from a drug overdose – that’s 115 people per day.
These grim statistics are only getting worse which is why one man has made it his mission to stop the opioid epidemic through education and community outreach. Last week, Dale Covington, a motivational speaker who is a recovering drug addict himself, hosted a presentation at the Ed Kenley Amphitheater in Layton featuring state and local leaders and experts in the field who talked about the opioid crisis that is infiltrating the state.
“It doesn’t matter if there are 1,500 or 15 people here,” said Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes. “Every single life is critical. We must eliminate the stigma and shame from this discussion. We need to come together on this issue and treat addiction and mental illness like the medical issues that they are.”
Reyes said if someone has cancer everyone rushes in to service. “But addictions come with judgment like they probably caused it themselves,” he said. “When you put one over the other it causes such judgment and isolation. You can label addiction however you want but to me it’s a medical emergency and they need support. If you feel alone, we’re here for you and trying to get you the resources you need.”
The purpose of the event was to unify the community in the fight to bring light “to a dark and secret subject that is destroying our families and lives,” material provided said.
“Many of you have to battle addiction every day,” said Reyes. “You’re heroes to me. You represent the work of dedicated professionals. Let’s take that pain and have a ‘call to arms to lift others out.’ You’ve been there. You know what it feels like in a dark night that seems like it is never going to end. You have the ability to pull others out of that.”
Reyes shared the story of “Hacksaw Ridge” where one man kept going back through the battle to save other men. “I hope you can see yourselves as that angel of Hacksaw Ridge because you’re saving people,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you save 75, 70 or just one. Those of you who are heroic in that (addiction) battle and are in a good spot now can stay with others. If you save one, have the heart to go back and save another.”
It takes all of us, he said. “It’s not a Republican or Democrat thing. It’s all Utahns, brothers and sisters walking around saving each other.”
“As a society we need to understand and realize there is a drug epidemic out there,” said Layton Mayor Bob Stevenson. “Sticking our head in the sand is a big mistake.”
DEA Utah Agent in Charge Brian Besser talked about the epidemic from the law enforcement side. “Everyone thinks we’re only interested in locking people up,” he said. “But I like to find successful ways to help before we deal with it in a criminal nature.”
What’s different about this epidemic is good people are getting caught up in addiction, he said. “It knows no economic or socio boundaries. I see soccer moms, clergy and police officers. Utah has maintained the seventh highest drug overdose rate in the U.S. We’re losing people in droves quietly.”
More than 80 percent of heroin users started with prescription opioids. “What’s fueling it?” said Besser. “Utah has a voracious appetite for prescription pills. No one would buy drugs that come in a baggie – those are naughty – don’t hang your dirty laundry out there. But drugs in a bottle with a doctor’s label seem to be fair game.”
Besser said there has been a proliferation of synthetic drugs like Fentanyl also. “Overdose is the leading cause of death in people under 50.”
People ask what the worst enemy I’m dealing with is right now, he said. “It’s shame. Individuals are quietly dying in their homes, at their desk at work, in a park because they didn’t dare ask for help,” said Besser. “My number one goal is getting them whole again. We have to have a paradigm shift away from the stigma. Nobody wants to talk about it because there is a price to pay. We need to change the culture and the way we think about addiction. Let’s get help to our friends and neighbors.”