Pandemic blamed for Oregon’s 40% increase in drug overdose deaths

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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.

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.

“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.

“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.

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    Five overdose calls, including two deadly cases, hit Oxnard police in 10-hour stretch

    Oxnard authorities responded to five overdose calls — including two fatal incidents — during a 10-hour stretch starting Tuesday afternoon.

    The cluster of cases prompted the Oxnard Police Department to issue a news release that included resources for people struggling with opioid addiction.

    The spate of calls started around 3:35 p.m. Tuesday when police and emergency medical personnel responded to a suspected heroin overdose in the parking lot of a business in the 2300 block of North Rose Avenue, south of the junction with Highway 101, the department reported. A 40-year-old man died at the scene after crews attempted life-saving measures.

    The next two patients were revived with the use of naloxone, a nasal spray sometimes called by the brand name Narcan, which can reverse opioid overdoses. Patrol officers with many local law enforcement agencies now routinely carry and administer the spray.

    Shortly after 7 p.m., a  29-year-old man described as unconscious and not breathing at Rose Avenue and Highway 101 was revived by emergency medical crews using naloxone. Less than an hour later, a bystander successfully administered naloxone to a 49-year-old woman reported as unconscious and not breathing at Ninth and B streets, authorities said.

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    At around 11:26 p.m., officers responded to the 1200 block of South Victoria Avenue, south of Wooley Road, where a man was reportedly not breathing inside a business restroom. The 36-year-old man died at the scene despite live-saving efforts by medical crews.

    Two hours later, police officers administered two doses of naloxone and started CPR on a 29-year-old man, successfully reviving him. He had reportedly stopped breathing in a business parking lot in the 1900 block of North Rose, north of Gonzales Road.

    In 2019, 149 people died of drug overdoses in Ventura County, authorities have reported.

    Oxnard police have recently increased seizures of heroin and fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid, the department noted. Addiction to prescription pain relievers has caused a sharp increase in use of heroin and fentanyl use in Ventura County because heroin is cheaper and more widely available than prescription pills, authorities said.

    Heroin is often laced with fentanyl, which is about 50 times stronger and can be lethal in very small doses. An amount of fentanyl equivalent to about three grains of salt could provide a fatal dose, according to police.

    “Very few people can say they do not know somebody who is not affected by the epidemic,” officials said in a statement, noting that opioid addiction can touch people from all walks of life. Naloxone kits are available for family members or others who live with a person struggling with opioid addiction from Ventura County Behavioral Health.

    Authorities urge residents to explore resources available from Ventura County Behavioral Health at www.venturacountyresponds.org.

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      Drug Overdose Deaths in 2020 on Track to Break Record

      Drug Overdose Deaths in 2020

      The Deadliest Year In the History of U.S. Drug Use

      While over 300,000 Americans and counting have died from COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic, another public-health disaster is taking more lives than ever before: drug overdoses.

      Overdose deaths in 2019 were significantly higher than 2018, jumping from 67,367 deaths in 2018 to 70,630 overdose deaths in 2019, marking a nearly 5 percent increase, according to a new report issued Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If that’s not grim enough, a separate health alert published by the CDC this week reports a “concerning acceleration” in overdose deaths for 2020, which provisional data show is on track to be the deadliest year for U.S. drug overdose deaths in recorded history. Complete data for 2020 is not expected to be available until some time next year.

      The CDC estimates that 81,230 drug overdose deaths occurred from June 2019 to May 2020. The largest overdose spike happened from March to May of this year, which coincides with the beginning of the pandemic when the economy collapsed, lockdowns were imposed and “social distancing” became a new way of life. In addition to unemployment and financial precarity driving up despair, public-health experts have also suggested that isolation during the pandemic has led more people to use drugs alone with no one around to revive them or call 911 if they overdose.

      “I’m horrified by the increases across the board,” Dr. Kim Sue, a physician-anthropologist who studies addiction at Yale University’s School of Medicine, told Intelligencer. “Even before the pandemic, the U.S. was going in the wrong direction.”

      Illicit fentanyl, an Über-potent opioid manufactured around the world in clandestine labs and used to adulterate heroin, is largely responsible for the soaring death rate, according to the CDC. While illicit fentanyl used to be concentrated in New England, it has rapidly spread across the Midwest and in recent years has made its way to the West Coast. In San Francisco, more people have died this year from overdoses than from COVID-19. In 2019, the city saw 441 overdose deaths compared to 621 so far this year, a 40 percent jump. Across the country, deaths are also steeply rising from stimulants like cocaine and methamphetamine, the CDC found, and many deaths involve a combination of different kinds of drugs, not just opioids.

      America’s overdose crisis is proving to be a dynamic and ever-changing phenomenon that experts say has played out in three waves. The first wave began in the early 2000s and mainly comprised deaths from opioid pain relievers like oxycodone. After a crackdown on prescription pills, people flocked to a ballooning heroin market as pills became scarce and expensive. The third and much more deadly wave that sent the overdose rate soaring was driven primarily by powerful illicit fentanyl analogues that began to be used in heroin.

      Now the U.S. may be entering a fourth wave, or something more like a tsunami. Illicit fentanyl and stimulants such as meth and cocaine now account for the bulk of overdose deaths. From 2012 through 2019, the rate of overdose deaths involving cocaine increased more than three-fold, and stimulants like methamphetamine increased more than six-fold, according to the CDC. Trends in stimulant overdoses are also on track to worsen during 2020. Deaths involving cocaine increased by 26.5 percent from June 2019 to May 2020, while deaths involving stimulants such as meth increased by 34.8 percent during the same period.

      President Trump took credit in 2018 for a meager decline in overdose deaths, but they have skyrocketed even as the federal government made $3.4 billion available to states to fund addiction-treatment services and purchase the opioid-overdose-reversal drug, naloxone. A new report by the Government Accountability Office shows why that funding has made little impact: Over $1 billion in federal grant money meant for the opioid crisis has yet to be spent by states. Addiction experts cite burdensome bureaucracy, needless paperwork, and poor use of existing treatment infrastructure as reasons why so much federal money that was earmarked for the overdose crisis remains unused. “Bureaucracy is literally killing people,” Robert Ashford, an addiction researcher who studies recovery, tweeted. The latest pandemic-relief package contains another sizable investment in mental-health and addiction services. Experts also lament that federal grant money specifically intended for the treatment of opioid-use disorders wasn’t available to people who needed treatment for other substance-use disorders — such as stimulant and alcohol addiction.

      Yale’s Sue and many of her colleagues believe that America’s “drug war” approach is outdated and that it has caused more harm than it aims to prevent. Focusing on suing Big Pharma, ramping up trafficking busts, and sending people suffering from addiction to drug courts are “myopic” and “misguided” approaches, Sue said. “We have to innovate and pivot quickly, enacting evidence-based harm-reduction strategies to keep people alive,” she added.

      There’s a long list of policies and interventions Sue hopes to see in the near future. “I am heartened to see in the CDC report that drug checking, mobile buprenorphine or telemedicine, wrap-around post-overdose care, and diversion from jail or prison, are critical components of a novel and engaged response,” Sue said, adding she’d also like to see supervised consumption sites and much greater access to effective medications that treat addiction.

      Meanwhile, the Biden-Harris administration has yet to select a director for the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), a.k.a. the “drug czar,” but whoever takes the job surely faces an uphill climb in their effort to prevent the crisis from getting even worse. If Biden keeps up the trend of hiring from the Obama administration and the Washington drug policy blob, America’s approach to addiction is unlikely to dramatically change anytime soon.

      “Why must U.S. drug policy be led by people who continue doing the same thing, putting a square peg in a round hole and expecting improvement?” Sue said.

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