Jelalian: The ripple effect of opioids and dirty needles | Local Guest Opinions

When I was in my big car crash a couple of years ago, it really messed up my body.

I left the work car I was driving with a shattered elbow, fractured knee, broken rib and cracked sternum. In the ambulance, the EMT’s gave me two shots of morphine, which frankly, didn’t do much from what I remember.

When I was in the hospital, they hooked me up to a Dilaudid drip. They said I could press the drip button once every 10 minutes if I wanted. I’ve never done something with a more consistent, religious zeal in my life than pressing that button.

The doctor eventually took me off of the drip and replaced it with Percocet and Oxycodone. These made church a truly spiritual experience, if you know what I mean.

As I went through physical therapy, the painkillers I was on made my pain bearable. The job that put me in that car had already replaced me by the time I was approved for desk work, but I still had a part-time radio job to go back to.

I just needed to get the thumbs up from my doctor so I could drive again. He wouldn’t green light me driving until I was off the pain pills.

The entire time I was on pain medications, I took them exactly as prescribed. Most of the time I had to because a nurse administered them to me. But even at home, I took them as prescribed. In fact, I took significantly less at home because we kept the pills upstairs, and I could hardly climb the stairs to get more pills.

It was still hard to get off of them, though. I went through withdrawals. My joints ached. I couldn’t sleep. And I was sweating all of the time. The weirdest part about getting off of drugs was how the pain seemed to intensify every day I was off of my pills.

The hardest part was knowing that there was an easy fix to my pain problem. I just needed to grab one more pill.

It took a week or so before those light withdrawal symptoms disappeared. If I didn’t have a job to return to, I’m not sure I would have felt nearly as motivated to quit.

This taught me how quickly one can become dependent. And the longer you’re on pain meds, the harder it is to stop.

It’s so easy to see why there is such a massive prescription opioid and heroin problem in Utah.

I bring this up because of a recent story the Daily Herald’s Katie England wrote about a split vote from the Utah County Commision to oppose a needle/syringe exchange program here in Utah County.

Commissioners Bill Lee and Greg Graves voted against the program, while Commissioner Nathan Ivie voted for it.

I’m sure that there are a lot of people who say that their tax dollars shouldn’t go to “helping junkies get high” or that we all have to suffer the consequences of our own actions. In a way, I understand those arguments.

But let’s break this down in simple economic terms. What costs the taxpayer more, giving out clean needles or the societal cost that come with a growing opioid addiction? Do needles cost more than the economic impact of disease and accidental sticks?

I’d love for someone to produce a study that shows that letting dangerous communicable diseases run rampant is somehow more economically sound than clean needles.

It’s pretty clear that most of the negative assumptions about clean needle exchange programs don’t hold up when you look at the data. Utah County’s Department of Drug and Alcohol Prevention and Treatment Director, Richard Nance, virtually said as much.

“Increased needles is not true, increased drug abuse is not true,” Nance said, as reported by England. “There are just a lot of unfounded fears where if you look at the science and the research will kind of put your mind at ease as far as the results of these things.”

As far as I’m concerned, the Utah County Commission’s vote to oppose a clean needle program was a poor idea.

Utah has a major prescription opioid problem. Lots of these people eventually turn to drugs like heroin because they’re easier to get a hold of than prescription drugs. There’s a lot of desperate people out there who are looking for anything to take their pain and suffering away.

It’s a known fact that Utah’s opioid epidemic is widespread. These aren’t just loser junkies. They’re soccer moms, vets, neighbors and people you go to church with. Most of these people probably didn’t wake up and decide to become addicts.

That’s not how it works. You might think that you’re above addiction, but I’m telling you, dependency and addiction are just a car crash away.

The least we could do is prevent an opioid-fueled ripple effect that will hurt others by spreading disease and dirty needles.

A well-planned clean needle program would have helped with that. Hopefully someday in the future, we’ll revisit the issue.

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