Oregon drug overdose deaths spike 40% in 2020

Oregon

The Oregon Health Authority links rise in preventable drug deaths to disruption caused by the novel coronavirus

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PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — Drug overdose deaths have jumped 40% in Oregon this year, according to the state health authority.

The 580 fatal drug overdoses reported are part of deadly pattern: there were 81,000 drug moralities nationwide in 2020 — with many of these deaths of despair linked to the loneliness and uncertainty triggered by the novel coronavirus.

“Food insecurity and disruptions in access to safe housing and mental health services have compounded stress from job losses, school and social isolation, and other problems brought on by the pandemic,” said Tom Jeanne, deputy state health officer for the Oregon Health Authority.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the 81,000 deaths have set a grim record: the highest ever loss of life reported in a 12-month period. “Disruption to daily life due to the COVID-19 pandemic has hit those with substance use disorder hard,” was the CDC’s conclusion.

The Health Authority says the bulk of the deaths happened in the second quarter of the year — rising in April, peaking in May — before returning to near monthly averages in June and July. At its apex, drug deaths were 63% higher year-over-year, and pending toxicology reports suggest another “concerning increase” will be on the chart for November as well.

“The COVID crisis also interrupted ways people with substance use disorder can get help, such as mental health services, 12-step programs and ambulatory visits,” Jeanne said.

Abuse of fentanyl, an illegal synthetic opioid, and methamphetamine are believed to be the primary drivers of the spike. Meth deaths rose 37% and fentanyl deaths rose 92% year-over-year, compared with a smaller 9% rise in heroin deaths and 57% rise in cocaine deaths.

Researchers say cocaine deaths are linked to contaminated forms of the substance mixed with fentanyl or other drugs.

The Health Authority notes that Oregon has 9,200 active methadone patients, mostly in the Interstate 5 corridor. State and rural communities “are lacking in access,” the report reads.

The agency distributed $2.4 million in harm-reduction supplies, including naloxone, to 68 addiction support agencies in 2020, and the Health Authority continues to support policing in the Oregon/Idaho High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, according to a news release.

Need help?

The Oregon nonprofit Lines for Life and Oregon Health Authority recently launched the Safe + Strong Helpline at 1-800-923-4357 (800-923-HELP).

Callers will receive free emotional support and referral to resources. Lines are open day and night, at any time.

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