SALT LAKE CITY – One and a half years ago, when she read Intermountain Healthcare's goal to reduce her 2018 opioid prescriptions by 40 percent, Kelly Howard cried.

"Finally some noise on this topic," she recalled thinking of herself.

Howard's son Billy Perkins died in 2014 of an opioid overdose. Perkins, 26, was not treated with opioids at the time of his death, but instead bought the drugs from friends.

"I thought my son would never touch drugs or alcohol," she said. "But once he got on the rollercoaster, he just could not get off."

She praised the hospital on Tuesday because it had almost reached its goal and drew attention to the serious problem.

"Well done, Intermountain Healthcare," she said. "Well-trained doctors and providers for their commitment to reducing opioid prescriptions, they've made it."

Intermountain Healthcare reduced the number of opiate tablets prescribed to patients with acute pain by 3.8 million in 2018, the hospital said Tuesday at a press conference.

Acute pain is defined as short-term pain typically associated with events such as fractures or surgery.

In August 2017, the hospital announced its ambitious goal of reducing opioid prescriptions by 40 percent in 2018. The hospital missed its target, but still achieved a 30 percent reduction. This can be proud of Lisa Nichols, Vice President of Community Health.

"I think the talk about the dangers of opioids has really opened up and the conversation about addiction and people's willingness to seek help has really changed," she said. "People are becoming much more aware and I think more sensitive."

She said the hospital is now focusing on reducing that number by 5 percent this year. According to the US Department of Health, Utah was one of only nine states that saw a decline in the number of opioid overdoses between 2016 and 2017.

Dr. David Hasleton, Intermountain Health's Chief Medical Officer, said dialogue between patients and physicians is the key to tackling the epidemic.

"It affects patients, it affects families," he said. "It opened the door so they can ask us questions now.

Doug Thomas, director of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Unit in Utah, will discuss opioid reduction at Salt Lake Clinic, Intermountain Healthcare, Salt Lake City on Wednesday, February 20, 2019. (Photo: Kristin Murphy, KSL)

Another important piece, he said, is the dialogue between doctors.

"It's up to us to take the lead to find out how we can do better," he said. "Treat patients properly but really improve community health and stop this epidemic."

Howard said her son had often tried to sell drugs, and she does not know how long he had to deal with the addiction before he told her about it two years before his death.

"So much of it is about stigmatization, about being ashamed or ashamed or not knowing where to get resources," Nichols said.

Also speaking at the conference was Doug Thomas, director of the Utah Department of Drug Abuse and Mental Health.

"The Drug Abuse and Mental Health Unit is committed to data-driven approaches that reduce the impact of prescription drugs and their abuse in our communities," he said. "And finding ways to offer more treatment to those who are affected by it."


It is up to us to take the lead to find out how things are going better. Treating patients appropriately, but really improving community health and stopping this epidemic.

-DR. David Hasleton, chief physician of Intermountain Health


Thomas talked about the success of the Use Only As Directed campaign and Intermountain Healthcare's mission to fight the epidemic.

"Because of this effort, there are more brothers and sisters today, our mothers and fathers, as well as our friends and family," he said.

Anna Fondario, program manager at the Department of Health of Utah, noted the success of the Utah Coalition for the Prevention of Opioid Overdos provided by Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox is headed.

"The opioid epidemic and its serious consequences are well known in Utah, and it requires extensive efforts by several authorities to reduce the number of overdoses," she said.

Addiction can happen to anyone, Howard said. Before her son became addicted to opiates, she said he was an avid reader, loved music and football and was a proud student of the University of Utah.

"I do not want him to be forgotten," she said. "I do not want these sons, daughters, family members and friends to be forgotten – once very, very viable people who had a wonderful life, I do not think any of them decided to just be like that wants him to be remembered. "

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