Opinion: Let's put power in Oregonians' hands to prevent overdose deaths
The harsh realities of the pandemic and devastating wildfires have only been made darker for many in Oregon who struggle with opioid abuse. The social isolation, economic instability, and loss that our families, friends, and neighbors have experienced has created a ripple effect that puts many at increased risk of an overdose — and even death. As a nurse practitioner, I've seen firsthand the impact these stresses have had on my patients.
The data shows how widespread the problem is. Between January and June 2020, Oregon saw a sharp increase in the number of overdose deaths from the same time period the year before. 339 people lost their lives to an overdose. My own brother nearly lost his life to accidental overdose multiple times. The only reason he is alive today is because the person witnessing his overdose had naloxone.
Naloxone is an FDA-approved medication that is used to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose when it happens. In my clinical practice and in my family, naloxone has been the life-saving armor for so many who have experienced an accidental overdose, and it can save more people in Oregon if we equip them with this essential tool at the same time that they receive an opioid prescription. The CDC recommends that a prescription for naloxone be simultaneously offered with an opioid prescription to all patients who are at a high-risk of accidental overdose.
I follow this guidance in my own practice, because I know that having naloxone at hand can be the difference between life and death. While many providers also follow this best practice, I believe the state can make it easier for providers by implementing a uniform requirement for when naloxone should be offered.
That's why this legislative session, I am proud to introduce House Bill 2376, which follows 10 other states to require Oregon's health care providers who prescribe opioids to co-prescribe naloxone and educate those patients about their risk of an overdose.
Early research into the effectiveness of co-prescribing laws show that they work. When states pass laws that increase access to opioid overdose reversal medications, there is a 9% to 11% reduction in opioid-related deaths. Recent research from Pew also confirms that expanded access to naloxone can curb opioid overdose deaths.
Right now, anyone in Oregon can obtain naloxone at their local pharmacy without a prescription. But the unfortunate reality is that far too many remain unaware of this option. Increasing access to and awareness of naloxone can save lives in Oregon, and it should start at the same time an opioid is prescribed.
As a state representative I will always fight for access to addiction care. We need all the tools in the toolbox to end the opioid epidemic.
House Bill 2376 is personal for me, but it's personal for many others in our state, too. Anyone who has witnessed an overdose or experienced the tragedies of an overdose death knows this. By simply equipping more of our neighbors with naloxone, we can prevent those overdose events from becoming fatal.
State Rep. Rachel Prusak represents House District 37 in parts of Clackamas and Washington counties. She is chair the House Health Care Committee and serves on the Economic Recovery & Prosperity Committee.
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