Local law enforcement and health leaders knew that Crook County had a growing opioid problem like many other communities throughout the country.
They knew that the community needed a decent supply of Naloxone, a drug that can reverse an opioid overdose and save lives. The problem they faced was without good data on the severity of the local opioid problem, it was difficult to land grant funding.
For this reason and to capture what the community is facing, the Crook County Health Department conducted an opioid assessment. The study, conducted in 2018, gathered data on a variety of sources including hospital overdose admissions, injected drug user-related infections, arrest rates and opioid prescription rates. Also, "key informant" interviews took place with eight community stakeholders who have direct insight on opioid use in Crook County.
"The main purpose of it was we were hearing from community partners about the issues and we had no idea what was going on because it is really hard to get local data," said Katie Walsh, health education with Crook County Health Department. "We wanted to know if heroin was an issue in Crook County and what everyone else was observing."
The assessment looked at illicit opiate use, such as heroin, but focused on prescribed opiate use as well.
The study found that Crook County has high substance use rates in general, including opioids, but unlike other communities in Oregon, opioids are just beginning to emerge.
"I don't think it has officially hit yet," Walsh said. "There is still time to get ahead of it."The assessment identified several trends in the community. For example, the quantity of heroin arrests has been climbing during the past few years. Meanwhile, the amount of opiates prescribed to local residents has been declining.
"The prescribing rates are going down, but they are still higher than the state (average)," Walsh said. "It is showing that the medical community is working very hard to try to reduce (opioid use) but at the same time trying to provide what they can to their patients to help them."
But in a small, rural community where resources are not as plentiful, it can be difficult to provide alternatives to opiates.
Another revelation from the assessment is the number of opioid overdoses has been declining, a trend that Walsh says "speaks highly of law enforcement and emergency medical services."
"They are very passionate about what they do and really want to help people," she said.
The assessment concludes with a look toward the future at what community leaders can do next. Walsh stressed that law enforcement and public health officials are trying to find ways to get ahead of the problem and implement prevention efforts. Next steps could include more education and teaching patients who are prescribed opiates to talk to their doctors and ask more questions about alternative medication and care options. Improved community collaboration is key, she added, as is improving Naloxone access and training.
"I definitely think it is beatable," Walsh said of Crook County's opioid situation. "We have a good chance to get ahead of it."
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