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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