Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has declared that the opioid epidemic is a public health crisis. “The ripple effects of addiction devastate families, preventing thousands of Oregonians across the state from living healthy, productive lives,” she said in a statement.
Opioids include heroin, oxycodone, codeine, hydrocodone and fentanyl.
Clatsop County is among the communities facing this crisis. In 2016, there were five accidental or undetermined drug overdose deaths in Clatsop County, according to the Oregon Health Authority.
Warrenton Police Chief Matthew Workman says, “I am saddened by the young people in our county who have died.”
Opioid prescriptions can lead to addiction and misuse of drugs.
Workman says many illicit opioid users have families where a child might get into the drugs and overdose on only a small amount. Prescribed medication can be a hazard to children if not properly stored. Additionally, many people who accidentally overdose on opioids are patients using the medications appropriately for pain management.
Because of this, first responders in Clatsop County carry naloxone, also known as Narcan, a drug that can restore normal breathing to someone whose breathing has slowed or stopped from an opioid overdose. Naloxone comes in multiple forms, including an injectable form typically used by first responders and nasal spray called Nasal Narcan.
“By administering naloxone to someone who overdoses, we can perhaps help them out and get them on the way to recovery,” says Workman. Due to the rural nature of Clatsop County, first response can take much longer to arrive at the scene of an overdose, which is why living in a rural location carries a much higher risk of overdose death. Police and laypeople carrying naloxone can save precious minutes and restore breathing while waiting for first responders to arrive.
What is the level of need?
OHA statistics show in 2016 there were 78 medical calls in which naloxone was administered in Clatsop County. From January to September 2017, 43 calls included using naloxone. Those reports are voluntary and do not include laypeople using naloxone.
Knappa’s Kerry Strickland does not want to see another family suffer as she did after her son died of a heroin overdose. She started Jordan’s Hope for Recovery as a way to reach out to people and their families who are dealing with addiction.
Oregon allows private citizens to carry and administer naloxone. It is available from pharmacists and medical professionals. Jordan’s Hope for Recovery received a grant from a drug company to distribute Naloxone for free.
During Clatsop County’s needle exchange in Astoria, Seaside and Warrenton, Jordan’s Hope for Recovery offers auto-injectable naloxone and training. Along with the drug, Strickland adds a little bag with a bottle of water, some snack bars and a bracelet with the Jordan’s Hope for Recovery website on it. The website lists recovery meetings and links to services throughout Clatsop, Tillamook, Columbia and Pacific (Washington) counties.
At the needle exchange, people have returned for a naloxone refill, so lives have been saved, Strickland says. The needle exchange, education and training have been a success. More than 30,000 needles have been exchanged in Clatsop County.
“We are here saving lives, giving people another opportunity to recover from addiction,” Strickland says.
Clatsop County responders
Clatsop County first responders, including Medix Ambulance Service and local fire departments carry Narcan to revive patients who have overdosed and as a precaution to protect responders in case of accidental exposure. Warrenton and Gearhart police also carry Narcan because they may be the first on scene.
Workman says, “Narcan can be used for those who purposely overdose and for those who accidentally overdose. Officers, could be exposed to drugs such as carfentanyl, which is a powder, and can get in the air and absorbed by the skin. It is extremely dangerous.”
Clatsop County Chief Deputy Sheriff Paul Williams says the county jail, and criminal and justice departments, keep naloxone on hand to make sure employees are safe if they come into contact with opioids.
Because many calls to the sheriff may be far from first responders, precautions include protective goggles, respiratory protection and naloxone. Astoria, Seaside and Cannon Beach police departments are studying this drug issue, but do not carry naloxone at this time.
Astoria Fire Department does carry Narcan and has staff on call 24/7. That is one reason Astoria Police Chief Deputy Eric Halverson said APD does not carry Narcan. Other fire departments and Medix carry naloxone are usually first responders and take care of those calls.
The third annual Northwest Opioid & Substance Abuse Summit will be held April 23-24, at the Seaside Convention Center. The summit offers information and discussion about trauma-informed care and encourages collaboration to de-stigmatize addiction.
This year’s event will emphasize three topic tracks:
• Substance Use Disorders
• Chronic Pain
• Community Action & Advocacy
The Way to Wellville and its sponsor, Columbia Pacific Coordinated Care Organization, support healthy activities and community safety.