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Utah - officially known as "The Beehive State" but more commonly referred to as "The Mormon State" because of its first settlers--covers 85,000 square miles, and boasts some of the most spectacular and unique natural formations in the country (among them Zion National Park, the incomparable Bryce Canyon, and the spectacular red rock of the Canyon Lands.) For every square mile of Utah land, there is an average of only 33.6 people! Thus, much of Utah remains very rural to this day. Studies show that rural U.S. communities are disproportionately impacted by drug overdose deaths, so perhaps it's this very remoteness that has contributed to Utah's huge spike in illicit drug use.
Utah boasts a relatively comfortable average annual income of $87,053 and thus one might be tempted to think that it had been spared the wave of drug addiction affecting poorer states, but nothing could be further from the truth. In 2009-2010, Utah was one of the top ten states for past year cocaine use among persons age 12-17, and roughly 5.6 percent of Utah residents reported past month use of illicit drugs. In 2009, the rate of drug-induced deaths in Utah was significantly higher than the national average. (Stimulants (including methamphetamine) are the most commonly cited drugs.) Despite the state being fairly well-off in terms of resources, substance abuse in South Dakota gives major cause for concern.
When we look at the relationship between addiction and economics in Utah, we quickly realize that it's complicated. Drug and alcohol abuse affects the entire country, and no state in the US has been spared, including The Beehive State. In 2016 the United States had over 60,000 overdoses, (a rate of 175 people dying per day,) and when we examine the numbers, we see that overdoses kill more people annually than suicides, homicides, car accidents or guns. And, although poorer people are statistically more likely to struggle with drug or alcohol abuse, correlation is not causation. This doesn't necessarily mean that people that are more well-off economically are less likely to become addicted; in fact sometimes wealthy people are thrown into poverty directly because of addiction. Someone who is solidly middle class can fall into poverty if their addiction leads to poor work performance and job loss. And, if someone has been fired from an old job, it can become a great deal harder to get a new one. It's a vicious downward spiral.
Much like the rest of the United States, prescription painkiller (opioid) addiction has blown across Utah, wreaking havoc on communities and ripping apart whole families. In Utah, 437 drug overdose deaths involved opioids in 2018 (a rate of 14.8!) Opioid addiction is particularly menacing because, due to the highly addictive nature of the drugs, it can sneak up on even the most careful of people, even when they think they're being vigilant.
Just as in the rest of the country, the root of the opioid problem in Utah stems from doctors over-prescribing these highly addictive pills when, in many cases, lesser drugs like Tylenol, Excedrin or Advil will do. Opioids may seem safe because a doctor prescribes them, but just one or two of few these prescription pain pills can get people hooked and send them off on a path to full-on dependency. In 2018, Utah providers wrote 57.1 opioid prescriptions for every 100 people!
Sadly many Utah residents have discovered that abusing prescription painkillers can lead to using even more dangerous substances. Federal and state regulations now try to control and limit the prescribing of opioids, (a valiant effort) but it has had the unintended effect of causing the use of street drugs like heroin (which is cheaper to obtain on the streets and gives a similar high) to skyrocket. And, the danger to substance abusers in Utah doesn't stop there. When certain street drugs like heroin aren't available, drug addicts often then turn to incredibly dangerous synthetics like fentanyl, (which is far stronger than heroin) and the result is usually a body bag. Initially, most users don't intentionally seek out fentanyl, but unfortunately once a person has been exposed to a higher toxicity of a drug, the brain chemistry is altered further, and users will seek out the most potent form. At the height of addiction, users are wholly unable to calculate the risk and are willing to go to any length to obtain the high. In the United States as a whole, synthetic opioids, including fentanyl, are now the most common drugs involved in overdose deaths, responsible for 59% of all opioid-related decedents.
A recent study took a look at substance abuse among youth in Utah, and the numbers give cause for concern.
17% of high school students report they've used marijuana (also called grass, pot, or weed) 1 or more times (lifetime.)
3% of high school students report they used any form of cocaine (for example, powder, crack, or freebase) 1 or more times (lifetime.)
4% report they've used pain relievers in any way not directed by a doctor in the past year.
Although the drug and alcohol abuse situation looks bleak by the numbers, the good news for Utah residents struggling with addiction is that help is only a few clicks away. We are more connected now than we have ever been, and The Beehive State has an abundance of resources to fit every need, whether you just want counseling, a broader more community-based approach, or are seeking full-on detox services. The important part is acknowledging the forces holding you back so you can begin the journey towards breaking free of them. This is the first step toward the rest of your life.
Utah State Facts
Utah Population: 2,232,034
Law Enforcement Officers in Utah: 4,540
Utah Prison Population: 9,900
Utah Probation Population: 10,292
Violent Crime Rate National Ranking: 43
2004 Federal Drug Seizures in Utah
Cocaine: 176.3 kgs.
Heroin: 1.5 kgs.
Methamphetamine: 18.1 kgs.
Marijuana: 150.6 kgs.
Ecstasy: 176 tablets
Methamphetamine Laboratories: 47 (DEA, state, and local)
Utah Drug Situation: Mexican poly-drug trafficking organizations dominate all facets of illegal narcotics distribution throughout Utah. Sources of supply for methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin, and marijuana are primarily located in California, the Southwest, Pacific Northwest, and Mexico. Methamphetamine production and abuse is the primary drug threat in Utah.
Cocaine in Utah: Cocaine is encountered throughout Utah. Kilogram quantities are available along the Wasatch Range, which stretches from Provo to Ogden and includes approximately 75 percent of the state’s population. Mexican organizations tend to dominate large scale cocaine distribution, although several other groups are capable of distributing kilogram quantities. In recent years, purity levels for cocaine in Utah have remained relatively stable, but prices have risen. Crack cocaine is available in ounce quantities, though it is confined primarily to larger cities.
Heroin in Utah: Heroin is a serious problem in Utah. Mexican brown and black tar heroin are available throughout the state, with multi-ounce and larger quantities primarily distributed in the major cities. Southern California is the source area for multi-ounce and pound quantities of heroin, after having been smuggled from Mexico. Mexican organizations trafficking in heroin also distribute cocaine and methamphetamine. Higher purity levels of heroin have recently been encountered through undercover purchases and seizures.
Methamphetamine in Utah: Methamphetamine is the primary drug threat throughout Utah. Mexican poly-drug trafficking organizations dominate the distribution of methamphetamine, most of which is produced in Mexico and southern California. The methamphetamine supplied by these organizations has increased in purity in recent years.
For the past four years, methamphetamine labs have declined in Utah. This is attributed to a number of factors, including strict precursor legislation (that was passed by the Utah Legislature in 2000), community awareness and education campaigns, and aggressive law enforcement efforts. Currently, most labs discovered in Utah are small (as measured by the amount of product made per cook) and rudimentary, compared with super-labs that were the norm several years ago. Despite the dramatic reduction in illegal clandestine labs, methamphetamine remains the drug of choice throughout Utah and the largest drug threat.
In August 2003, the owner of a Salt Lake City-based business was indicted federally for Conspiracy to Distribute Pseudoephedrine and Ephedrine to be used in the illegal manufacture of methamphetamine. In addition, the owner of another business based in Ogden was sentenced to 97 months imprisonment on 2 counts of Distribution of Pseudoephedrine and Ephedrine to be used in the illegal manufacture of methamphetamine. As a result of the investigation, three local businesses supplying precursor chemicals and glassware for methamphetamine production have been put out of business.
Club Drugs in Utah: MDMA and GHB are a problem along the Wasatch Front. They are available through dance clubs and private parties. Many abusers of LSD and other hallucinogens are now dealing and using MDMA and GHB because of their availability and profitability. MDMA distribution in Utah is controlled by structured organizations with domestic sources of supply in the southwestern United States.
Marijuana in Utah: The majority of marijuana encountered in Utah is of Mexican origin. Marijuana is also grown in the remote areas of the state, which are most conducive for growing operations due to the fertile soil. Also, the importation of marijuana from British Columbia, Canada, remains active in Utah.
In July 2003, DEA Metro Narcotics Task Force personnel assisted the United States Forest Service and Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Office (Canyon Patrol) with the seizure of 8,800 marijuana plants from a remote area of Big Cottonwood Canyon. This marijuana seizure was the largest ever in Utah. A sophisticated gravity-flow watering system was utilized in the grow operation. Illegal migrant workers were utilized to tend to the harvest, reflecting an increasing trend of having illegal aliens brought to Utah in order to plant, grow, and cultivate marijuana. By growing the marijuana domestically, trafficking organizations are able to avoid having to smuggle the marijuana across the border. It should also be noted that due to the remote location and rough terrain of the grow site, the Utah Department of Public Safety assisted in the eradication of these plants by utilizing helicopters to fly out thousands of pounds of equipment and marijuana.
DEA Mobile Enforcement Teams: This cooperative program with state and local law enforcement counterparts was conceived in 1995 in response to the overwhelming problem of drug-related violent crime in towns and cities across the nation. There have been 409 deployments completed resulting in 16,763 arrests of violent drug criminals as of February 2004. There have been two MET deployments in the State of Utah since the inception of the program: Salt Lake City and Midvale.
DEA Regional Enforcement Teams: This program was designed to augment existing DEA division resources by targeting drug organizations operating in the United States where there is a lack of sufficient local drug law enforcement. This Program was conceived in 1999 in response to the threat posed by drug trafficking organizations that have established networks of cells to conduct drug trafficking operations in smaller, non-traditional trafficking locations in the United States. Nationwide, there have been 22 deployments completed resulting in 608 arrests of drug trafficking criminals as of February 2004. There have been no RET deployments in the State of Utah.
DEA Special Topics: The State of Utah participates in the Rocky Mountain HIDTA, which is based in Denver, Colorado. The DEA Metro Narcotics Task Force receives funding from HIDTA. In mid-2001, a HIDTA Investigative Support Center (ISC) was established in Utah and co-located with the DEA Salt Lake City District Office. The ISC supports drug task forces throughout the state.
In February 2003, the DEA Metro Narcotics Task Force began participating in a nationwide, coordinated investigation into the Ismael Zambada-Garcia drug trafficking organization, responsible for smuggling tons of methamphetamine and cocaine into the United States. Information obtained from the nationwide investigation helped agents identify members of the Zambada-Garcia organization operating in Utah. Several of these members acted as drug couriers who traveled to California to pick up large amounts of drugs and brought them back to Utah for distribution. During one such trip, the couriers were stopped and 10 pounds of methamphetamine were seized. In June 2003, DEA Metro learned of another shipment of drugs that was being driven from California to Salt Lake City. Ultimately, the vehicle was stopped and approximately 11 pounds of cocaine were discovered that had been vacuum-sealed and secreted in a false compartment within the gas tank of the vehicle.