Oregon saw a nearly 40% increase in overdose deaths this year, a jump that’s similar to the trend nationwide.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention blames the increase on COVID-19. It said the pandemic has hit people already struggling with substance abuse disorders hard.

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CDC figures show Oregon reported 580 deaths from drug overdoses between June 2019 to May 2020 . For the whole country, there were more than 81,000 deaths. That’s equivalent to the entire population of Medford, and it is the highest number of overdose deaths in a one-year span the country has ever seen.

The guidelines advise against using opioids as the first-line therapy for mild to moderate pain.

While most Oregon overdose deaths involve opioids, troubling contributors include methamphetamines and the synthetic opioid, fentanyl.

Kristian Foden-Vencil / OPB

“Many people who are using substances, they may be hanging by a thread as is,” said Dr. Tom Jeanne, deputy health officer with the Oregon Health Authority. “Throw in a pandemic and all the disruptions, access to housing, access to health care and mental health services, stress from losing jobs and social isolation, all of those things just compound the already significant stressors that many of these people are facing.

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“The COVID crisis also interrupted ways people with substance use disorder can get help, such as mental health services, 12-step programs and ambulatory visits.”

The Oregon Health Authority is reporting a 63%t spike in drug overdose deaths during the second quarter of 2020. The deaths appear to have peaked in May and then returned to near-monthly averages in June and July. Death figures for more recent months have yet to be updated, but early data indicates a worrisome increase in November.

While most Oregon deaths from overdoses involve opioids, troubling contributors include methamphetamines and the synthetic opioid, fentanyl.

The state said it is taking several steps to try to reduce overdose deaths. For example, the state is distributing the overdose prevention drug naloxone. It’s using real-time overdose surveillance data to mount immediate responses to sudden increases in deaths. And it’s providing methadone to patients through opioid treatment providers and it’s using people who’ve recovered from drug addiction to mentor those currently using drugs.

People using opioids on a regular basis are also being advised to reach out to treatment programs, hotlines and mental health services.

The Oregon Health Authority is sending opioid overdose reversal kits to 8,000 business across the state. They have gloves, disinfectant wipes and CPR protection, but the businesses will have to buy naloxone themselves. A prescription isn't needed, but one dose can cost between $20 and $120.

Naloxone can be used to resuscitate a person suffering from a drug overdose. The state is trying to place it in lots of organizations where it can easily be used if someone is in trouble.

Kristian Foden-Vencil / OPB


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