Opioid Epidemic in Oregon at Fever Pitch

Originally Published February 10, 2016 - By Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service (OR)

PORTLAND, Ore. - Three people die from prescription opioid overdose in Oregon each week, according to the Oregon Health Authority, and lawmakers in Salem are taking notice.

The House Committee on Health Care is expected to hammer out during a work session today the details of a bill allowing pharmacists to provide an overdose antidote without prescription. The drug naloxone is administered as an injection or nasal spray in life-threatening events of overdose to counteract the effects of opiates.

Doctor Safina, Medical Director of the Columbia Pacific CCO, says she supports the bill.

"Naloxone has been a huge benefit in this issue," says Safina. "And I think it has a huge potential for those who are on high doses of opioids or those who are at high risk of opioid overdose."

Walgreens announced yesterday it will make naloxone available without a prescription in 35 states this year, including Oregon, once those states' regulations allow it.

Some Oregon care providers are looking for ways to intervene before naloxone is necessary. Many opioids are first prescribed by doctors to manage chronic pain for a variety of ailments.

However, Dr. Anne Alftine, director of Clinical Care Integration of Jackson Care Connect in southern Oregon, says the risk of addiction and overdose, as well as new medical studies, are opening the door for a number safer alternatives to manage pain.

"Practices around meditation and yoga can be some of the most effective things that help people with chronic pain," she says.

Alftine says physical therapy and peer support groups can also be effective alternatives.

Opiate abuse along the north coast of Oregon has been more rampant than in other parts of the state. To combat the rise in addiction there, Koreishi has helped set up three facilities such as the North Coast Pain Clinic, which specializes in behavior-based treatment.

However, Koreishi says alternative care is just one part of the equation for solving opioid addiction.

"We will not make movement on this issue unless we can engage our prescribers and our providers in making this change," says Koreishi.

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