Donna Gibbons, Utah House District 6

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Why did you decide to run for public office?

To bring pragmatism and a fact-based exchange of ideas into the Utah legislature to mitigate wasteful message bills, and resolutions that are not legally sound. These bills and lawsuits have cost Utah taxpayers millions of dollars. This is a matter of fiscal responsibility. I want to champion bills that are aimed at improving the lives of all Utahans. This is a matter of giving everyday Utahans a strong voice that can compete with the access and influence that is easily purchased by wealthy individuals and corporations.

What is your background? Profession, skills, etc.? 

Professionally, I manage contract pharmacy services to provide patients of Utah's Community Health Centers with access to affordable medications, under the Federal 340B Drug Discount Program. Before this, I managed a technology training center teaching most of the classes there as a Microsoft Certified Professional. I was a project manager for an internet branding company then promoted to manager of their Wi-Fi division. I studied political science at Salt Lake Community College and earned a business management certification from University of Utah. For the past 15 years, I have also taught kids how to rock on stage and in life as a keyboard/vocal instructor and co-director for School of Rock. My experience in technology, healthcare, project management, corporate client care, after school programs, and management of grants and government programs has prepared me to take initiative, ask thoughtful questions, look at all sides of issues, gather credible data, and weigh impacts as I work with others to find viable solutions to Utah's challenges.

What is your general experience with drug policy and substance abuse? 

I manage the pharmacy services program for 6 of Utah's Community Health Center organizations under Utah's state Primary Care Association, The Association for Utah Community Health. Over the past 11 years in this position I have had the opportunity to work with the healthcare providers for AUCH member organizations, as well as many community pharmacists through our partnership with Smith's Food Drug and the Pharmacy Roundtable and Formulary Committees that I host. I am currently working with the pharmacy department at The University of Utah to provide a CE accredited Naloxone training for our member pharmacists, and other pharmacy professionals around the state regarding standing order requirements. I am also passionate about Trauma Informed Care and am honored that the Trauma Informed Care Network has endorsed my campaign. Illicit drug use was identified in Healthy People 2010 as a leading health indicator because it is associated with multiple deleterious health outcomes, such as, sexually transmitted diseases, human immunodeficiency virus, viral hepatitis, and numerous social problems among adolescents and adults. We need to continue to gain greater understanding regarding the influence of stressful or traumatic childhood experiences on initiation and development of drug abuse. I am grateful that Naloxone is now available over the counter, along with training on how to safely administer the product. I hope this will save lives. I wish it could have saved the life of the daughter of one of my best friends this last year. Sometimes it is too late.

Do you support the creation of a medical cannabis program? Can you expand upon your general feelings about medical cannabis?

I do support the creation of a medical cannabis program. Marijuana is a legitimate, emerging, treatment modality. That is proving, for those with chronic pain, to be safer, quite effective, and far less addictive than opioids. The benefits for cancer patients are also pretty well established. I believe that the first responsible step would be to change Marijuana to a schedule II drug, so rigorous studies can be conducted. Then, utilizing data and observations from the states that have already legalized it for medical use, piece together comprehensive legislation for the regulation of prescribing and dispensing of this drug, offered in several forms to accommodate the individual needs of patients. We ultimately need to correct the nebulous legal status of medical marijuana in the United States through an act of congress.

What steps would you take to reduce the number of overdose deaths? Do you have any personal experiences with overdose?

I think that the campaign to promote the benefits of Naloxone, making it available over the counter and training friends and family members on how to administer it, will save many lives. I believe we need to continue to fund campaigns to remind people that, just because it is prescribed doesn't mean that it is safe and that great harm can be caused by sharing prescriptions. We also need to target families and educate them about recognizing the signs of heroin use, so they can get help for their loved ones before it is too late. Just this past year, one of my best friends lost her daughter. A darling 10-month old boy is now being raised by his grandparents. Another beautiful mother of two boys in our School of Rock program died unexpectedly and way too soon, due to a lethal combination of medications. 

Do you agree with this analysis? Please feel free to elaborate.

I agree. This is a public health issue. It can become a criminal justice issue when addicts turn to criminal behavior to sustain their habit. I see this intersection as an opportunity to provide effective treatment, while also making reparations and determining punishment for any harm done. We need to fund more free or low cost rehabilitation facilities. I am encouraged to see a bipartisan effort to reduce several federal mandatory minimums regarding drugs. It passed the senate and I hope the house will bring it to a vote this year.

Are you familiar with the principle of harm reduction? Do you have any experience with harm reduction policies? Please feel free to elaborate.

I am an avid advocate for this. As long as there is demand, there will be supply. As our drug enforcement and public safety departments grapple with the problem of drug flow into our state and our schools, then our public health entities need to be equipped with all harm reduction measures proposed by DPPU.

What are your general thoughts on the decriminalization of cannabis? Please elaborate.

I am in favor of decriminalization, especially for those who are using cannabis for medical reasons. I believe that if someone is in possession of an amount that is clearly meant for personal use, then there should not be a criminal arrest. Many law enforcement officers will tell you that they have better things to do with their time.

Are you interested in sponsoring drug policy reform legislation if you were elected? What would be some specific areas of focus or interest for you?

Yes, I would advocate for legalization of medical cannabis and work on decriminalization of personal recreational use of cannabis. I would also want to look at the state budget to allocate funding for free treatment centers. Utah has taken a step in the right direction with HB348, the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, which was approved last year by the Legislature. I am looking forward to seeing a report on tax savings due to reduced incarceration and recidivism rates, after this bill has been in effect for a year or so.

Anything else?

I can simply see that we are losing so many loved ones needlessly. The issue of drug abuse has touched all of us in one way or another. I believe strongly that public health policies, and public education campaigns and programs can give Utahns the tools they need to be safe and protect their families. We need more treatment centers in our rural areas, and we have to get rid of the shame factor and deal openly with this problem in our state or many will continue to die.