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Health and Human Services has distributed nearly 300 doses of Narcan nasal spray to help reverse the effects of an opioid overdose

Every week, an average of five Oregonians die from opioid overdoses.

Marion County is trying to prevent those deaths by equipping first responders with medication that may stop overdoses.

The county Health and Human Services Department has distributed 274 doses of the nasal spray Narcan to local police and fire departments, as well as such agencies as the ARCHES Project. When used in time, the spray can restore normal breathing for a person who has overdosed on heroin, oxycodone, fentanyl or another opioid.

Ambulance crews typically carry naloxone, the scientific name for the drug, which can be administered by injection or through the Narcan nasal spray. The county program expands the availability of Narcan by involving additional first responders.

Lt. Chris Baldridge of the Marion County Sheriff's Office said it made sense to equip deputies with Narcan, which is easily administered.

"They want to carry it with them. It's another tool in their bag," Baldridge said. "Our jobs are forever changing. Any time there's something out there that can make a positive impact on our community, typically our deputies want to have it with them. This is definitely one of those things."

The medication will be valuable for treating individual using opioids, as well as first responders exposed to opioids at drug scenes.

The county program began in May and is financed by an Oregon Health Authority grant. Along with providing Narcan to agencies, county program manager Jeff Good, Ph.D., has been encouraging them to join a national database that tracks overdoses.

Good said the Overdose Detection Mapping Application Program can show spikes in overdose occurrences, indicating that a particularly potent or tainted batch of drugs is on the streets, so first responders and hospital emergency rooms can be prepared.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Woodburn Police Chief Jim FerrarisThe Woodburn Police Department has been an Oregon leader in using ODMAP. "It's been fabulous because you can see where it's happening," Police Chief Jim Ferraris said.

Although Woodburn officers were carrying and administering Narcan before the county launched its program, Ferraris credits Good with making the medication more available and getting more police departments involved.

Defying stereotypes, Good said, opioid overdoses in Marion County predominantly occur among people age 55 and older. These individuals might have been on high doses of legal opioid painkillers and/or used street drugs.

Methamphetamine remains Oregon's No. 1 drug problem, but heroin and other illegal and legal opioids are right behind. Narcan is an aid in fighting the opioids epidemic but not a solution.

"This is great for helping reverse overdoses and saving lives, but what do we need to be doing to stop people before they have overdoses — to help them with addiction?" Good said. "This is me thinking of the bigger picture: What can we do to prevent addiction?"

That sentiment is shared by Chief Ferraris, whose long career in Oregon law enforcement has centered around drug enforcement, treatment, prevention and education.

"Drug addiction is a disease. There's a lot of criminality that goes hand-in-hand with drug addiction, but addiction itself is a disease and everyone should be given the opportunity for treatment. I really believe in that," Ferraris said.

"Equipping first responders with Narcan gives those first responders the opportunity to save a life and maybe give a person an opportunity to take advantage of treatment."

Find out more

More information about the Narcan distribution program is available at:

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