Two more people suffered serious opioid overdoses since Deschutes County health officials warned last week that a cluster of them may be tied to a particularly strong type of opioid.
Emergency responders are so alarmed by the situation that they are now carrying extra doses of the anti-overdose drug naloxone.
“I hope it’s not a trend,” said Drew Norris, deputy chief of EMS for Bend Fire Department.
Friday night, the Deschutes County Health Department issued a warning after four opioid overdoses were reported in a 36-hour period that began Wednesday night in Central Oregon. It is the first time the county has been notified of a significant increase in overdoses, said Morgan Emerson, a spokesperson for Deschutes County Health Services.
The health department hasn’t found many answers about why this is happening, or where it is coming from, Emerson said.
The county is working with the Oregon Health Authority to set up investigative guidelines to find out how clusters like these happen and spread, she said.
While the two new cases happened later in the weekend, and are not part of the cluster originally reported, health officials suspect the overdoses could be pointing to a larger problem: Opioids, laced with a significantly more potent drug called fentanyl, have come to town.
“We can’t confirm from our tests we do in the department because we don’t have the drug to test. We can only be suspicious,” said Michelle Brenholdt, the director of emergency services in Bend and Redmond for St. Charles Health System.
“But we know it’s been spreading across the country,” Brenholdt continued. “We were hoping it was not reaching Central Oregon, but it appears to be a possibility.”
For Brenholdt, the number of opioid-related overdoses is not particularly alarming. On average, the emergency room can see up to six overdoses a week. What troubles her more is how severely sick the patients are, and how much naloxone it takes to treat them.
“We see heroin overdoses every week, but they often respond to one or two doses and then an hour later they are eating a sandwich,” Brenholdt said.
The recent patients need a continuous infusion of naloxone over 12 to 24 hours, Brenholdt said.
Emergency rooms at all four locations of St. Charles Health System hospitals — in Madras, Bend, Redmond and Prineville — received patients with local addresses, said Brenholdt. They range in age from 20 to 50 and were brought in either by ambulance or friends. Patients reported taking substances ranging from opioid pills to heroin.
Emergency responders in Bend are now packing more naloxone. For a more typical opioid overdose, a first responder usually expects to administer one to two doses of a 2-milligram vial of naloxone. These more recent overdoses have required medics to administer 6 to 10 milligrams — the amount it takes to revive someone who has taken drugs this strong, said Norris, the EMS deputy chief.
“If it takes that much Narcan, you know something’s going on,” Norris said, referring to a brand of naloxone. “This is a little more rare. It’s definitely out of the norm.”
Norris and Brenholdt said the recent spike could be related to a similar outbreak that happened at the end of June in Medford.
Handling the opioid crisis is nothing new for emergency responders, Norris said. But responders are preparing to respond to a new kind of medical call — one that takes longer, and requires more resources.
“When you get something with more resource demand, and when you have more of those occurring, you run out of resources a little quicker,” Norris said.
— Reporter: 541-633-2160, firstname.lastname@example.org