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Series on drugs from Northwest News Network.

Comparing Spring 2019-Spring 2020 Data Reveals 70 Percent Spike In Overdose Deaths

Matthew T Rader

Note: In an earlier release dated October 22, 2020, the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) reported that opioid-related deaths and hospitalizations in Oregon increased by 70%.   The OHA now says that number was for all drugs, not just opioids, and regrets the error.

Drug-related deaths and hospitalizations in Oregon have seen a troubling spike compared to last year.

The Oregon Health Authority tracked state data from April and May of this year, and compared it to the same period last year.  The difference?

“Nearly a 70% increase in the number of overdose deaths," says Dr. Tom Jeanne, deputy state health officer. He says illicit fentanyl, heroin, and meth have driven the increase.

Jeanne says while the data is preliminary, it shows a steady rise in opioid use across Oregon. Overdose deaths increased between April and May of this year by 28% alone.  The pandemic may be a factor.

"Many stressors related to COVID-19 itself, as well as the jobs, or school, and social isolation can really increase everybody’s anxiety and depression, and could maybe lead to more harmful levels of drug use.”

Officials urge people to carry naloxone which can reverse opioid overdoses, and to seek help through the Safe + Strong Helpline at (800)923-4357 (800-923-HELP).  And Jeanne says if someone is using opioids, not to use alone as isolated users are more prone to overdose risks.

Copyright 2020, KLCC. 

Brian Bull is an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Oregon, and remains a contributor to the KLCC news department. He began working with KLCC in June 2016.   In his 27+ years as a public media journalist, he's worked at NPR, Twin Cities Public Television, South Dakota Public Broadcasting, Wisconsin Public Radio, and ideastream in Cleveland. His reporting has netted dozens of accolades, including four national Edward R. Murrow Awards (22 regional),  the Ohio Associated Press' Best Reporter Award, Best Radio Reporter from  the Native American Journalists Association, and the PRNDI/NEFE Award for Excellence in Consumer Finance Reporting.
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