BYU Students Learn the Facts Behind the Opioid Epidemic

At the BYU College of Nursing’s Professionalism Conference on February 26, nursing students had a unique opportunity to get informed on one of the most important health issues in the nation: the opioid crisis.

The conference, titled “The Opioid Epidemic: Heed the Warnings, Watch for the Signs, Know How to Act,” featured Shana Metzger, an acute care nurse practitioner who focuses on addressing the American opioid crisis. Her lecture, hosted in the Wilkinson Student Center’s Varsity Theater, addressed many important points on the opioid epidemic.

Shana Metzger


“Opioids are a class of drugs that include the illegal drug heroin, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, and pain relievers available legally by prescription, such as oxycodone (OxyContin®), hydrocodone (Vicodin®), codeine, morphine, and many others,” reads a brief from The National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Regular use—even as prescribed by a doctor—can lead to dependence and, when misused, opioid pain relievers can lead to overdose incidents and deaths.”

As the use of opioids in medical practice has increased over the past twenty years, so have the levels of addictions, overdoses, and deaths caused by opioids.

The numbers surrounding the opioid crisis in America are astounding. According to the New York Times, drug overdoses of all varieties killed around 64,000 Americans last year, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that approximately 66% those deaths involved an opioid. To put that in perspective, the National Safety Council puts the number of American traffic fatalities in 2016 at around 40,000.

According to the CDC, over 115 Americans die daily from opioid overdoses, and 40% of all drug overdose deaths in America involve prescription opioids. In fact, the increase in drug-related deaths has contributed to a decline in life expectancy in the United States over the past two years.

Much of the opioid crisis is driven by an increased abuse of prescription drugs, which then drives an increasingly higher number of users to switch to cheaper heroin. As the CDC explains, “Between 2010 and 2016, the rate of heroin-related overdose deaths increased by a factor of 5 – more than 15,469 people died in 2016.”

Utah is far from immune—in fact, according to the Utah Department of Health, Utah has the seventh highest drug overdose rate in the United States. The Deseret News has recently been covering how the typical opioid addict is frequently a “normal” man or woman with a family and an established livelihood.

Demographically, the crisis has many facets. The CDC reports that most prescription opioid overdoses happen with Caucasians or Native American aged 25-54. One report by the State Health Access Data Assistance Center points out that Americans in that age range are more likely to die from heroin or other opioid related overdoses. It also explains that while heroin use is increasing across all racial groups, Caucasians have a higher preponderance of heroin overdose deaths.

However, the New York Times also reports that the young are particularly affected, saying that “[despite] the perception of the epidemic as primarily afflicting the rural working class, drug overdoses account for a greater percentage of deaths among the young in large cities and their suburbs, with urban and suburban whites most at risk.”

Topics like these were covered by Metzger in her lecture, which students found informative. The conference topic is particularly relevant since the federal government declared the opioid epidemic to be a public health emergency back in October. Metzger’s own involvement in the issue came after treating a large number of patients with opioid addictions.

The BYU’s students left the conference, which also included a closing session featuring former BYU football player and current host of “Jazz Game Night” Alema Harrington, with more self-confidence and better prepared to handle any manifestations of the opioid crisis they encounter in their own careers.

(Graphic courtesy of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services)


More on the Opioid Epidemic:

Numbers and Statistics:

Causes of the Epidemic:

Opioids in Utah:

On-the-ground look:

New Ways Opioids are Spreading:

Public Reaction:


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