Policy institute works to find baseline data for Utah’s battle against opioids

Policy institute works to find baseline data for Utah’s battle against opioids

A policy research institute is helping Utah assess whether or not their efforts to combat the opioid epidemic in that state are accessible to and effective for its residents.

The Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute at the University of Utah recently worked to create a database of the opioid use disorder (OUD) treatment programs are available in Utah, and to illustrate what barriers to accessing that treatment there are.

In Utah, drug overdose is the leading cause of injury death. The Gardner Institute released a report in April that provided legislators and other leaders with a comprehensive picture of what treatment programs were available in the state to treat OUD.

Researchers with Gardner then built maps to show where specific types of treatment options were located. By using information on local opioid death rates near those treatment centers, the group was able to illustrate whether or not treatment supply was meeting demand.

Researchers also held a series of focus groups with stakeholders – from medical and behavioral health care providers to criminal justice representatives to insurers – to understand perspectives on barriers to treatment and to gather ideas on improving the system. In addition to highlighting gaps in rural dare, the discussion group members cited commonly identified issues that can affect access to care, such as the stigma of OUD, gaps in the treatment workforce, and the high cost of treatment.

Researchers said the data can be used by policymakers to take steps to close treatment gaps. As an example, the group said if policymakers wanted to increase access to care for rural populations, the would be able to explore information in the database to identify which evidence-based programs are working in other places and to review the various methods that would meet their residents’ needs.

Researchers said the information is even more important during the COVID-19 pandemic, as access to treatment is more difficult during physical distancing requirements. Some evidence suggests that these social distancing requirements may exacerbate substance abuse issues, even leading to relapse in those in the midst of treatment.

Research also shows that social isolation may increase prescription opioid misuse. Early reports indicate that as Americans have sheltered in place in response to the pandemic, drug overdoses have spiked in some areas.