Press release: Utahns demand immediate legislative action for opiate treatment funding

Seanna Williams, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker at True North Treatment Center in Utah County, is leading the fight against opiate deaths in Utah.

She has collected over 1,500 petition signatures from those who have been most impacted by opiate addiction, many of whom have lost someone to an opiate overdose.

According to the petition (shown above), these citizens are calling for immediate action by legislators to fund treatment programs and medication for those battling opiate addictions. Reportedly, Utah is 5th in the nation for opiate related deaths. 

As the petition notes, a crucial aspect of preventing more opiate-related deaths is the provision of life-saving medication. The petition calls for funding treatment centers that provide these medications like Methadone, Suboxone, and Vivitrol so that they can be provided for free to opiate addicts. These medications are expensive and would require substantial funding from the state.

In an interview with me, Williams provided a solution to this funding problem. She said, “Utah taxes heavy beer, wine and liquor at the fifth highest rate in the nation. Ten percent of these revenues fund Utah’s school lunch program, 1 percent goes to the Department of Public Safety, and the rest is transferred to the general fund. In 2014 alone, these alcohol taxes generated more than $126 million.”

She continued, “The problem is what little money is spent on treatment is given to County authorities, who don’t actually run any Opioid Treatment Programs. Treatment options are all private sector save one 501(c)3 organization.”

Williams laid out a clear plan for funding these programs, “$500,000 for 14 clinics which total $7 million, leaving $119 million for the general fund (in 2014 dollars). Each clinic could keep their money in a scholarship fund to pay for the treatment of any one who meets certain criteria.”

“With more funding, clinics could provide a higher level of case management and clinical therapy to clients, not just weekly group discussions which meet minimum federal and state standards. This would ensure that all clinics were providing evidence based treatment and life saving medication. Clinics who chose not to provide these crucial steps in treatment would forego the funding”, Williams said.

“As soon as clients were able to pay their way, their payments could be placed back into the scholarship fund which would, if operated properly, become self-generating within 1-2 years”, concluded Williams.