Ray Ward, Utah House District 19

Why did you decide to run for public office?

I have been working on the Medicaid expansion quite a lot already, and when the seat came open, I realized that there was nothing stopping me from running. So, I decided to give it a shot.  The two issues I care about the most are improving public education and improving health care.

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

I am a family physician in private practice, and part of my practice is writing Suboxone prescriptions to individuals who have become addicted to opiates. So, I spend quite a bit of my time thinking about issues relating to controlled substances.

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

I prescribe Suboxone, so I see a lot of the negative effects of narcotics. I sit on the Health and Human services committee and the Social Services Appropriations Subcommittee. I have been involved in some of the Utah Medical Association’s efforts to define safe prescribing practices for narcotics.

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

Yes, I do support the creation of a medical cannabis program. There are a couple of restrictions on the program that would limit the number of patients that an individual prescriber could have, and the number of conditions for which it could be given, but within those limits I believe it is a good idea.

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

I have lots of experience as a physician with patients who have suffered from opiate overdoses.  I am working on a bill to try and reduce the number of high risk opiate prescriptions that are written in Utah.  

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

Yes.  I think that sums it up fairly well.

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

Sounds good to me.

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

I would support that.

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?

As noted above, I am spending a lot of my time right now on legislation that I hope will reduce the number of high risk narcotic prescriptions that are written.

Anything else?

As a community, we are currently suffering from a large number of individuals who are addicted to narcotics, and most of these addictions started with a legal prescription. We have one of the highest overdose death rates in the country, and many thousands of additional lives are ruined by narcotic addiction. This is a relatively new problem. 20 years ago, the field of medicine decided that it would be safe and effective to treat pain by greatly increasing the number of narcotic prescriptions written. Shortly thereafter, we experienced (and continue to experience) a commensurate large increase in the number of narcotic overdose deaths. Narcotics are the most addicted substance that has been discovered so far, and it is not reasonable to expect that we can have large amounts of them circulating in our communities without suffering harm. It is important to get proper medical treatment to those who suffer from narcotic addiction, but it is even more important to STOP GETTING SO MANY NEW PEOPLE ADDICTED. If we were able to return to the safer prescribing patterns that we had in past years, I have hope that we would greatly reduce the harms these substances are currently causing.