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Oregon highest nationally in drug misuse but last in treatment access, health officials report

COURTESY PHOTO: MULTNOMAH COUNTY PUBLIC HEALTH - Synthetic opioids like fentanyl are often sold as oxycontin on the street. Fentanyl can be 50-100 times more powerful than morphine and is often deadly.Clackamas County's Public Health Division and local advocacy groups have released an advisory highlighting the dangers of fentanyl and other synthetic opioids which experts say are leading to an increasing number of overdose deaths and hospitalizations.

Fentanyl, a powerful opioid often manufactured into counterfeit pills designed to look like pharmaceutical-grade pain medications, is "similar to morphine," per county health officials, "but is 50 to 100 times more potent and can make a person stop breathing within minutes."

On April 5, officials reported an 18% rise in opioid overdose hospitalizations in the county from 2020 to 2021, during which time the area saw hospitalizations due to synthetic opioids such as fentanyl more than double, per the advisory.

Among all 50 states, Oregon now sees the highest rate of prescription opioid misuse and remains last in terms of access to treatment, as 18% of the Oregonians needing treatment remain underserved, officials reported in the advisory.

Amid the rising opioid crisis in Clackamas County, police departments have reported increases in drug sales taking place through social media platforms, posing an greater risk for young residents.

"Parents and trusted adults should talk to teens about the dangers of fake pills and how to stay safe while online," said Philip Mason-Joyner, public health director for the county. "Maintain open communication and remind youth that drugs or medications that are not taken as prescribed from a doctor or pharmacist could contain fentanyl and be very dangerous."

Statewide reports from the Oregon-Idaho High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area reveal the seizure of more than 1.3 million counterfeit pills across Oregon in 2021, up 85% from 2020 and nearly 12 times higher than in 2019, per the advisory.

While dealers in the region are increasingly targeting younger buyers, Mason-Joyner emphasized that the increasing prevalence of illegal narcotics can impact anyone in the community: "There is not a certain type of person who is impacted by overdose from fake pills. It affects everyone."

Tips that officials provided for families to reduce the risk of opioid-related dangers include maintaining open dialogue with youth about substance-abuse risks and asking without judgement about noticeable changes in behavioral tendencies.

Securing medications safely, disposing of any unneeded medicines and keeping a stock of the life-saving overdose treatment Naloxone are other safety measures recommended by health officials.

Also available locally are a number of resources and support services including:

Oregon Youth Line (text or call): 1-877-968-8491

Lines for Life, Drug and Alcohol Helpline: 800-923-4357

Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK

Northwest Family Services, Transitions Program Alcohol and Drug Treatment

Email for appointment: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Call for appointment: 503-734-0893

To learn more about opioid safety and prevention in Clackamas County, click here.

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