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OHA: Drug Overdoses More Than Doubled Between 2019 And 2021

PORTLAND, Ore. – A new report from the Oregon Health Authority finds that drug overdoses more than doubled in Oregon between 2019 and 2021, with the increase mostly driving by fentanyl.

And the OHA says the trend is continuing this year.

“We are seeing a critical need for naloxone as many communities experience dramatic increases in overdoses due to fentanyl misuse,” said Dean Sidelinger, MD, MSEd, health officer and state epidemiologist at OHA. He noted that many counties have reported multiple opioid overdoses over the last several weeks, and that there has been a corresponding demand for naloxone. “We encourage everyone in Oregon to educate themselves and their loved ones—including young people—about the importance of naloxone, how to use it in an overdose emergency, and where people can access it.”

OHA is taking steps to reduce drug overdose deaths:

  • OHA, in collaboration with OR-ID HIDTA, is working with public safety and public health partners to implement Overdose Mapping and Application Program (ODMAP), a real-time suspected overdose surveillance data system to mobilize an immediate response to a sudden increase in overdose events in local communities. HIDTA has recently found a large number of narcotic pill seizures by participating law enforcement agencies that appear to be pharmaceutical narcotics like oxycodone but are likely counterfeits containing fentanyl.
  • Oregon established a Harm Reduction Supply Clearinghouse to support agencies that serve people at risk of overdose, including offering community-based outreach, prevention and harm-reduction programs, withdrawal and substance use treatment programs, and rural and frontier first uniformed responders across Oregon. Currently, there are 127 organizations set up to order harm-reduction supplies online through the Clearinghouse. Organizations participating in the Clearinghouse have ordered nearly 130,000 doses of naloxone and other supplies, including syringes, wound care, PPE, disinfectants and personal hygiene products (to prevent COVID-19 and treat wounds).
  • The PRIME+ (Peer Recovery Initiated in Medical Establishments) program provides peer-based harm reduction support for persons currently using drugs who present to medical settings. The program goals are to reduce overdoses and infections related to harmful drug use. PRIME+ peer support specialists assist people who are using drugs to access naloxone, safer use supplies, HIV and hepatitis C testing, primary care and substance use treatment, and more. The PRIME + program operates 23 sites in 20 counties in Oregon and has reported more than 20,000 contacts with community members and provided harm-reduction-centered peer support to more than 3,400 people who are using drugs in participating counties since January 2021.
  • About 10,000 to 11,000 patients in Oregon are receiving methadone through Oregon’s opioid treatment providers (OTPs). Most OTPs are concentrated along the Interstate 5 corridor serving Oregon’s four largest metropolitan areas, although federal funds have helped with expansion to rural and frontier areas, such as the Oregon Coast, and central and eastern Oregon. As of spring 2022, Oregon also had about 2,100 practitioners federally certified to prescribe buprenorphine for treating opioid use disorder, although only around half of providers choose to use their certifications in any given year. Despite expansion efforts, coastal and rural communities in Oregon are still lacking in access to medication for opioid use disorder (MOUD) in many cases.

In addition, OHA is issuing the following warnings to people who use drugs:

  • Unless a pharmacist directly hands you a prescription pill, assume it is counterfeit and contains fentanyl.
  • Assume any pills obtained from social media, the internet or a friend are counterfeit and contain fentanyl.
  • If you are using pills, don’t use alone and always have naloxone on hand and visible.
  • Test your drugs with fentanyl test strips before you use them. Fentanyl test strips can often be accessed at local harm-reduction sites.

Here’s more from the OHA:

Health officials are reminding people that opioid use disorder can be successfully treated. Those who need help to stop using opioids can talk to their health care providers or view OHA’s list of resources. In addition, Oregon law allows lay people to carry and use naloxone, a medication that can be used to reverse an opioid overdose, on other people. Learn more about naloxone. If a person is using substances alone, the Never Use Alone Hotline 800-484-3731 can be a nonjudgmental and lifesaving point of contact for emergency services.

Oregon-based nonprofit Lines for Life and OHA recently launched the Safe + Strong Helpline at 1-800-923-4357 (800-923-HELP). The line offers free, 24-7 emotional support and resource referral to anyone who needs it—not only those experiencing a mental health crisis. The Safe + Strong Helpline is a response to needs for emotional support around disasters like COVID-19 and wildfires and was funded by the CARES Act. Callers are routed to a counselor who can provide emotional support, mental health triage, drug and alcohol counseling, crisis counseling or just connection.



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