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Latest data show overdoses continue to skyrocket in Oregon

Naloxone, sold under the brand name NARCAN is administered as a nasal spray and reverses an opioid overdose. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images) Getty Images

BY:  – JANUARY 26, 2024 || OREGON CAPITOL CHRONICLE

As lawmakers prepare to tackle the state’s addiction crisis, new data from the Oregon Health Authority shows how dire the addiction crisis has become.

In 2019, 280 people died of a drug overdose in Oregon. Fatalities rose every year after, more than tripling by 2022, when 956 died. And last year, even more people died, according to preliminary data. Each month the number has been higher than the previous year, reaching 628 in June. The state is still compiling data for 2023, but if the trends continue, the total would reach 1,250 needless deaths from an overdose.

 (Courtesy of the Oregon Health Authority) 

The number of patients seeking help in emergency departments and urgent care centers also rose last year to more than 300.

The overdose trend is expected to continue this year.

“Oregon’s overdose fatality rate is expected (to) sharply rise over the coming year due to the saturation of fentanyl in Oregon’s illicit drug supply,” Jonathan Modie, a public health spokesman, said in an email.

Oregon is flooded with fentanyl in the form of fake blue pills that are designed to resemble oxycodone 30-milligram pills, or M30s. They’re cheap, often costing a dollar each, and they’re often mixed with other drugs to make them more potent, according to the Drug Enforcement Agency. There’s no way of knowing how much is in each pill, but 2 milligrams – enough to fit on the tip of a pencil – can kill. Many pills tested by the DEA contain much more than that, up to 5 milligrams, more than twice the lethal dose.

“Fentanyl is far more potent and fast acting than other opioids, which significantly increases a person’s risk of a fatal overdose,” Modie said.

 (Courtesy of the Oregon Health Authority) 

Mexican drug dealers smuggle fentanyl into the U.S., often in the form of powder, and it’s distributed across the country. But Oregon has been particularly hard hit. It has among the highest rates of illicit drug use nationwide and the lowest access to treatment, Modie said.

“On average, more than 90 Oregonians die every month from overdoses,” he said.

The fatalities include an increasing number of young people, prompting the health authority in December to expand a harm reduction initiative, Save Lives Oregon, to schools. The program is offering three free kits of naloxone, an opioid reversal medication, to schools, colleges and universities that serve children at least 7 years old.

 This map represents overdose visits to emergency departments and urgent care centers during 2023. (Oregon Health Authority) 

Last year, the Legislature passed a law designed to make naloxone or Narcan, a nasal spray, more available. It allows law enforcement officials, firefighters and emergency providers to distribute and administer the drug and allows school administrators, teachers or other school employees to treat students without their parents’ permission.

Save a life

In the event of an overdose, call 911. For more information about naloxone, click here.

Narcan is available over the counter in Oregon, and pharmacists can prescribe naloxone, enabling people to seek reimbursement from their insurance company.

Health authority officials said naloxone is more available today than two years ago, but they don’t know how widespread it is nor how many people’s lives have been saved. Save Lives Oregon partners reported more than 7,500 opioid reversals since 2020.

People can carry naloxone with them in Oregon and administer the drug to someone experiencing an overdose. Typical signs include unconsciousness, slow or no breaths or snoring or gurgling sounds. People’s lips and the inside of their mouths also can turn blue or gray, and they may be unable to talk.

 

 

 

Lynne Terry, who has more than 30 years of journalism experience, is Oregon Capital Chronicle’s editor-in-chief. She previously was editor of The Lund Report, a highly regarded health news site; reported on health in her 18 years at The Oregonian, was a senior producer at Oregon Public Broadcasting and Paris correspondent for National Public Radio.

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