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Intended to address how different entities in Central Oregon respond to opioid overdose clusters

As health and government leaders continue to grapple with an ongoing opioid crisis in Crook County and other communities, work is now focusing on overdose outbreaks.

Such outbreaks could occur for any number of reasons, whether the cause is a bad batch of drugs circulating in an area or some other factor. In fact, one was discovered recently in the Central Oregon region by accident.

Health professionals throughout the region have been focusing on overdose outbreaks and how to handle them for the past few years. This has resulted in the development of the Central Oregon Overdose Response Plan, a document exceeding 100 pages that takes a deep dive on the background of overdose response, as well as processes for handling overdoses, prevention, early intervention, treatment, reversal and recovery.

Regarding the discovery of the outbreak that prompted further action, Heather Stuart, prevention coordinator for Crook County Health Department, said that some agencies just happened to connect the dots.

"But the systems weren't in place to ensure that that happens every time there is a cluster," she said. "If there is no communication channel happening regionally, there is no way to be able to identify an overdose cluster and respond in a comprehensive manner regionally."

The Pain Standards Task Force, which is part of Central Oregon Health Council has worked on a region-wide effort to develop a comprehensive overdose crisis response for Central Oregon through engagement with regional experts, Stuart said.

"The purpose of the overdose response plan is really just to outline the roles and responsibilities of different stakeholders in responding to an overdose outbreak and how each agency will be able to provide support and respond," she said.

These stakeholders include professionals from a variety of sectors including public health, law enforcement, the department of human services and the district attorney, as well as medical examiners, funeral directors and morgues.

Once the response plan was finalized, a regional task force was formed to operationalize the plan. It includes a variety of sectors including media representatives to ensure that reporting on overdoses is done in a way that does not result in adverse effects amid an outbreak.

The taskforce first met in January and discussed potential overdose surveillance processes that could work for the region and to participate in tabletop activities that were meant to draw out additional information on Central Oregon's current overdose response. The next taskforce meeting is scheduled for early June as stakeholders and health leaders continue work to operationalize the response plan.

"How do we make the plan come to life so that we have an effective overdose crisis response initiation?" Stuart said.

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