Oregon sees ‘alarming spike’ in opioid-related deaths in April, May


PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Illegal fentanyl and meth are believed to be the driving factors behind an “alarming spike” in opioid-related overdose deaths in Oregon this spring compared to last year, health officials announced.

However, it’s unclear how much the novel coronavirus pandemic factored into the 70% increase in opioid deaths during April and May 2020 compared to the same months in 2019.

The analysis, which was released by Oregon Health Authority’s Injury and Violence Prevention Section in its Public Health Division, also found there was a nearly 8% increase in overdose deaths during the first quarter of 2020 compared to 2019’s first quarter.

Data for the analysis came from medical examiners and death certificates, which showed illegal fentanyl and heroin was behind much of the spike. The analysis also found an ‘alarming trend’ in methamphetamine-involved deaths, which accounted for more than 40% of all overdose deaths in May.

“Behind each one of these statistics is a person, is a family, and a community that is wrecked by addiction,” said Dwight Holton with the Oregon-based non-profit Lines for Life.

Officials stressed it’s still unclear what effect the COVID-19 pandemic may have had in this analysis.

“Until more data become available, it is premature to say how much of the spike in overdose deaths is attributable to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Dr. Tom Jeanne, deputy state health officer and deputy state epidemiologist at the Public Health Division, said in a statement. “However, the realization that we will be dealing with COVID-19 for some time, and other stressors related to jobs, school and social isolation, may increase feelings of anxiety and depression, and that can lead to a harmful level of alcohol or other drug use.”

Health officials want to remind people that opioid use disorder can be treated and there are resources to help. Those who need help can talk to their health care providers or check out OHA’s list of resources.

“Such a substantial increase in overdose deaths is discouraging,” said Holton. “It means we need to be more vigilant about worrying about our friends and loved ones and their use of substances because now, more than ever, is a time for us to be reaching out and connecting with friends, family, and loved ones to rebuilding that understanding of hope.”

Lines for Life also recently launched the Safe + Strong Helpline to offer 24/7 emotional support and resource referral to anyone in need. Call 1-800-923-4357 (800-923-HELP) to reach a counselor who can offer emotional support, mental health triage, drug and alcohol counseling, crisis counseling, or just a human connection.

“We are there 24/7, 365—trained counselors are there to help you talk through the anxiety and stress you are feeling about COVID, or the economy, or anything,” said Holton.

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