State-Level Strategies for Reducing Prescription Drug Overdose Deaths: Utah's Prescription Safety Program


Erin M. Johnson, MPH, P.O.
Box 142104, Salt Lake City, UT 84114, USA.
Tel: 801-538-6542; Fax: 801-538-9923;


Introduction.  The Utah Department of Health created a program to decrease deaths and other harm from prescription pain medication. Program goals included educating the public, providers, and patients on prescription safety and creating guidelines for providers on prescribing opioids.

Program Interventions.  The department's Prescription Pain Medication Program was organized in collaboration with many state agencies as well as public and private organizations. The program developed a statewide media campaign, running messages using the slogan “Use Only As Directed” from May 2008 to May 2009. The program facilitated the publication and distribution of opioid prescribing guidelines.

Program Outcomes.  Collaboration among stakeholders to develop educational materials furthered use of the materials. The program distributed more than 2,800 copies of the prescribing guidelines and more than 120,000 copies of print materials, including bookmarks, patient information cards, and posters.

Statewide Data.  In 2008, unintentional overdose deaths from prescription opioids dropped 14.0% compared with the number of deaths in 2007. In 2009, the number of deaths remained stable from 2008. The campaign funding ended in May 2009. State agencies have continued collaborating and have pooled money to renew the media campaign in 2011. Evaluation of the impact of the prescribing guidelines is ongoing.

Conclusions.  The state-funded educational campaign may have contributed to a reduction in overdose deaths. Collaboration among state agencies and a sustained educational effort are important aspects of a successful prevention campaign.