More pills…more problems.
That seems to be the trend in Central Oregon, at least over the past month.
The Central Oregon Overdose Crisis Response Taskforce reported a spike in drug overdoses between Sept. 15 and Oct. 11.
One overdose in Deschutes County was fatal, while 15 others were not.
Deschutes County Public Health’s Harm Reduction Program noticed the trend in their primary outreach locations in Bend and Redmond.
The program’s leaders have recorded overdose data from participants since the end of 2018.
“In the month of September there were nine overdoses reported to our program,” Overdose Response Coordinator Ashley Jones said.
“We started noticing an uptick in August; we had eight total reported over that month. As a comparison, July saw only three overdoses reported to our program.”
The presence of fentanyl has been the leading cause of overdoses they have observed.
Fentanyl, Jones explained, is a synthetic opioid that is 100 times more powerful than morphine.
“We began distributing fentanyl test strips to our program participants back in July, and they’ve been reporting back that most everything that they test is testing positive for fentanyl,” Jones said.
Crook County Public Health Director Katie Plumb, who also serves as Chair of Central Oregon Overdose Crisis Response Taskforce, said her team has observed the same thing.
“Street drugs that are maybe not marketed as opiates, we’re seeing more and more often, have opiates or fentanyl laced or cut into it,” Plumb said.
The Taskforce has monitored overdose data in Central Oregon off and on since December 2020.
She said broader systemic issues may drive people to substance abuse in the first place.
“Those are oftentimes things like housing and social determinants,” she said. “Housing, health, access to care. Those are big system issues.”
Systemic solutions will take time, but there are a few ways to help in the short term.
“We provide both Nasal Narcan and injectible Naloxone, as well as fentanyl test strips to all of our participants,” Jones said.
“I think definitely maintaining relationship and being able to meet them where they are is so important, what their readiness levels are,” Plumb said. “Then educating yourself about what that person is going through is really helpful, educating yourself about the resources that are available.
“People can carry Narcan with them. It’s accessible at pharmacies, you can get it without a prescription or a pharmacy can issue it right there.”
“You can use testing strips, so they’re not surprised by something that may be cut in to a product,” Plumb added.
According to the Oregon Health Authority, an average of five Oregonians die every week from opioid overdoses.
You can find a list of organizations and phone numbers of local substance abuse resource centers here.