After two settlements with manufacturers and distributors of opioids, Oregon is expected to receive about $425 million to aid for treatment and prevention of opioid abuse.
Approximately five Oregonians die every week from an opioid overdose. According to the Oregon Health Authority, many overdose deaths are linked to both prescription pharmaceuticals and illicit opioids such as heroin.
Wally Hicks is the legal counsel for Josephine County. He says in rural Oregon, the effects were more dramatic than other parts of the state.
“By 2012, Josephine County was plagued by the highest rate of opioid use in the state,” he said. “Nearly 300 prescriptions per 1,000 residents.”
The statewide average at the time, according to Hicks, was 234 prescriptions per 1,000 residents.
He said that opioids not only affected the health of the community, but its workforce as well.
“When the spike in opioid availability occurred, there was a dramatic decline in the wood product industry in southern Oregon,” he said.
Josephine County wasn’t the only community hit hard by opioids. Alex Cuyler is the intergovernmental relations manager for Lane County. He said that despite efforts to make anti-overdose drugs like Naloxone more accessible, Lane County continued to feel the brunt of the opioid crisis.
“Even through 2020, we had the higher burden of overdose deaths in the state of Oregon,” he said.
Currently, funds from the settlements will be divided amongst local governments and the state, with the latter receiving a smaller portion at 45%.
This wasn’t always the case.
The state originally intended to keep 85% to have more centralized control, but Lane and other counties pushed back.
“We felt strongly that since we initiated the lawsuit…it was inappropriate for the state to take the vast majority,” Cuyler said.
Hicks said that if this original plan went through, it would mean less relief at the local level.
“Counties in Oregon are the local public health authority and really are the ones who do the lion’s share of the work to battle the opioid epidemic and deal with the consequences,” he said.
He said more funds from the settlement means more investments in education and prevention, medical examiners, sheriffs and jails.
According to Hicks, the cost associated with crime and opioids in Josephine County has been approximately $7 million beginning in 2017.
“We are going to see an impact here, but this epidemic is so overwhelming and it’s not over yet,” Hicks said.
To hear more from Think Out Loud’s conversation with Alex Cuyler and Wally Hicks, click the “play” button at the top of the page.