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DEA data released by Washington Post, state data show how opioids reach consumers

OREGON HEALTH AUTHORITY MAP - In the first quarter of 2019, there were 196.9 opioid prescriptions filled per 1,000 residents in Columbia County. That's a decline from the first quarter of 2017, when there were 235.3 opioid prescriptions filled per 1,000 residents.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the name of a pain-management clinic in Columbia County. The clinic is called the Revitalize Wellness Center.

Years of opioid pill sale data released last week by the Washington Post show that from 2006 to 2012, over 1,336,351,877 prescription pain pills were supplied to Oregon. Of that, 15,548,040 pills were supplied to Columbia County.

That is equal to 45 pills per person per year, according to the Post.

The data is part of a Washington Post project that looked at 380 million transactions documented by the Drug Enforcement Administration, which tracks the manufacturers, distributors and pharmacies where pain pills travel.

In Oregon, deaths from pharmaceutical opioid overdoses peaked from 2006-2008, with 5.5 deaths per 100,000 population. Deaths from any opioid overdose peaked at the same time, reaching 8.7 deaths per 100,000 people. In Columbia County, deaths from overdosing on any opioid peaked at 11.5 deaths per 100,000 people from 2009-2011. Pharmaceutical opioids accounted for 10 deaths in the county during that time period.

Since then, however, overdose deaths have dropped in Columbia County and statewide.

Though the national data from the DEA only covers 2006 to 2012, Oregon has its own prescription data standards. The Oregon Health Authority has opioid prescription data available from as recent as 2018.

For years, opioids seemed like an ideal pain management solution to many in the medical field, Miriam Parker explained. Parker is a licensed clinical social worker with Columbia Community Mental Health and runs the Revitalize Wellness Center, which assists patients with non-opioid pain management. The center was created four years ago in response to alarmingly high amounts of prescriptions being issued.

Opioids are highly addictive. Anyone who uses opioids for more than a few days is at risk for developing chemical dependency, Parker said.

As the public and medical field have become more aware of the risks of opioids, prescription rates have dropped. But opioids do serve a purpose in pain management for those with chronic pain or temporary health issues.

"Reducing use and overdose and deaths is a priority for the state," said Columbia County Public Health Director Michael Paul. "There's very little funding right now for local public health to provide treatment directly. We need to increase access to medication assisted treatment."

The strategies for managing the opioid crisis include supporting safe and effective non-opioid pain management for new patients and increasing access to medication-assisted treatment for those who have already been using opioids.

Parker says the pharmaceutical industry and medical profession are still catching up to the new understanding of opioids. Alternatives to opioids have been slow to come about because the industry hasn't realized that among patients, "there's a real hunger for alternatives," Parker said.

"I think it's been a very difficult time for patients because for many years, the medical system really presented that these (opioids) were safe," Parker said. Now, patients and doctors are adjusting to new information. "It takes time to figure out pain management strategies... writing a script for opioids is quick."

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