6/07/2016

Mormons Left Vulnerable


Maline Hairup was a devout Mormon. No alcohol, no coffee. She didn’t smoke. Until the day she died, she had never used illegal drugs. Yet she was an addict for most of her adult life.

“Maline never thought she had a problem,” said her sister, Mindy Vincent, a recovering addict.

“She was a firm believer that because the doctor prescribed the pills it was OK. 

She didn’t see any shame in it. She didn’t think she was an addict. It wasn’t like taking drugs. 

But she was on the painkillers for 15 years until they wouldn’t give her any more.

“She eventually ended up getting some heroin because she couldn’t get any more pills. 

My sister used heroin one time and she died.”

In 2014, the year Hairup died at age 38, one-third of adults in Utah had a prescription for opioid painkillers, most notably a powerful opiate at the heart of the crisis, OxyContin. Many of them were among the 65% of state residents who are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormons. 

Sometimes, opioids take hold of several members of the same family. Hairup’s father is dependent on prescription painkillers and her brother’s addiction to prescription opioids set him on the path to heroin.

One person dies each day in the state from a prescription drug overdose, a 400% increase since 2000, according to the Utah health department. 

The toll rises by half again when deaths from heroin are included. The US attorney in Salt Lake City, John Huber, last month warned of “an insatiable appetite in Utah for pain pills and for heroin”.

Many of the recorded deaths are of people who became hooked on prescriptions for sports or work injuries, or to cope with chronic conditions such as back pain. 

But there has also been widespread use among Mormons who some LDS church members say fall back on opioid painkillers as a crutch to cope with pressure to live a devout life.

“We have a catastrophe now in Utah with opiate overdoses,” said Dan Snarr, a member of the high priest group leadership within the LDS church whose son, Denver, died of a prescription drug overdose at the age of 25 after becoming hooked on painkillers following a rugby injury. 

“The LDS church is a big part of it. I go to church every week and I see where the challenge is. 

They make people feel that they should be perfect and they feel inferior, like they can’t live up to the standards of what they expect them to live up to. 

So they start using prescription painkillers not to address pain, physical pain, but the mental issues that go along with feeling inferior. 

That you just cannot cope with all the things you’re expected to be and to do.”  Read more
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