The numbers provide reason for both alarm and hope.
Deaths from opioid overdoses in Oregon will rise 6.5% this year and again in 2020, according to projections from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s the highest expected increase among eight Western states: Oregon, Washington, California, Arizona, Idaho, Montana, Nevada and Utah.
One reason: The services available to help people in Oregon cope with opioid addictions are not as widespread as they are in other states, said Mike Stensrud of the Oregon Washington Health Network, which conducted a community forum Wednesday in La Grande on opioid abuse. For example, the availability of psychiatrists in many parts of the state is far less than in other states. Psychiatrists, Stensrud said, can be very important in helping people with mental illness overcome addictions.
The hopeful statistics: The number of opioids being prescribed to Oregonians has been falling since 2015, Stensrud said. He credits this to two state programs. One is a Prescription Drug Monitoring Program that provides pharmacists with the ability to track the drugs patients are getting at other pharmacies. Should a druggist discover that someone is receiving opioid prescriptions from multiple physicians, the pharmacist must notify the patient’s doctors so that corrective action can be taken.
A second program, Oregon’s Prescription Drug Medication Program, is also helping to reduce opioid prescriptions. Through it the state advises doctors on which ailments opioid painkillers should or should not be prescribed for. Conditions physicians are discouraged from prescribing opioids for include long-term chronic problems like lower-back pain. The reason is that someone on opioids for a long duration is more likely to develop an addiction, Stensrud said.
Guidelines for opioid prescriptions are developed by a consortium of doctors and then distributed to Oregon physicians by the Oregon Health Authority.
One focus of the Oregon Washington Health Network’s staff is to begin providing drug addiction treatment services to patients while they are hospitalized. Patients are more receptive to entering treatment programs while they are hospitalized, said Dan Peterson, manager of the Oregon Washington Health Network, whose main office is in Pendleton.
“It is important that a treatment plan for them be developed within 72 hours (of entering a hospital),” Peterson said.
Where a person lives can effect the likelihood of the opioid addiction leading to death. Peterson noted that while an average of 30 Oregonians die every 10 days of opioid overdoses, 15 of these individuals come from rural Oregon, even though just 20% of the state’s population lives in rural areas. Peterson said rural Oregonians do not have access to the health care services that those in urban areas do.
Peterson hopes to establish a crisis center in Pendleton, one that would be open round the clock. The crisis center would allow the Oregon Washington Health Network to provide shelter for drug addicts who are homeless for at least 24 hours while a treatment program is set up for them.
Peterson said Pendleton has a higher need for a crisis center because it has more homeless people, in part because it is the home of the Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution. Many former inmates, some of whom are drug addicts, find themselves homeless in Pendleton after being released. The center would also be available for people from other counties.
“(A crisis center) is our greatest need,” Peterson said.