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OHA report reveals 2021 saw increases in overdose deaths and ways to help those at risk

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Michael Longmire
Polysubstance overdoses—those involving multiple drugs— rose in 2021 and now account for more than half of all fatal overdoses in Oregon.

A new report from the Oregon Health Authority shows opioid overdoses and related deaths went up in 2021. The report also notes some trends that present opportunities for intervention with people at risk of overdose.

The OHA report finds methamphetamines and the synthetic opioid, fentanyl, helped drive an increase in overdoses and deaths last year. Polysubstance overdoses—those involving multiple drugs—also rose and now account for more than half of all fatal overdoses in Oregon.

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OHA guidance for illicit drug users includes this: If you are using, don’t use alone and always have naloxone on hand and visible.

In addition to the human costs, charges for drug overdose-related hospitalizations reached $170 million and emergency room charges were $50 million.

In terms of intervention, the report explains how interactions with emergency and health care personnel represent opportunities to connect patients to comprehensive treatment and prescribe the overdose reversal medicine, naloxone.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Naloxone can reverse an overdose from opioids, including heroin, fentanyl, and prescription opioid medications.

The OHA report describes those at highest risk for unintentional overdose death were American Indians and Alaska Natives, non-Hispanic Blacks and males. At lowest risk were people of Hispanic ethnicity and non-Hispanic Asians and Pacific Islanders.

OHA has developed the following guidance for people who use drugs:

  • Unless a pharmacist directly hands you a prescription pill, assume it is counterfeit and contains fentanyl.
  • Assume any pills obtained from social media, the internet or a friend are counterfeit and contain fentanyl.
  • If you are using pills, don’t use alone and always have naloxone on hand and visible.
  • Test your drugs with fentanyl test strips before you use them. Fentanyl test strips can often be accessed at local harm-reduction sites.
Tiffany joined the KLCC News team in 2007. She studied journalism at the University of Missouri-Columbia and has worked in a variety of media including television and daily print news. For KLCC, Tiffany reports on health care, social justice and local/regional news. She has won awards from Oregon Associated Press, PRNDI, and Education Writers Association.