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Overdose Awareness Day: How to Prevent Tragedy in Ore.

In 2015, there were 12 overdose deaths for every 100,000 Oregonians. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
In 2015, there were 12 overdose deaths for every 100,000 Oregonians. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
August 31, 2017

PORTLAND, Ore. – Thursday is International Overdose Awareness Day, and medical experts in Oregon and across the nation are fighting the growing epidemic of this preventable cause of death.

The opioid epidemic has gained national attention as the number of deaths has soared in recent years.

Melissa Brewster, a pharmacist and clinical coordinator with Columbia Pacific CCO in the northwest part of the state, says the number of overdose deaths has declined slightly in Oregon, with 12 people per 100,000 deaths in 2015.

But the northwest counties still are suffering, and Tillamook County has the highest overdose rate in the state.

Brewster stresses that anyone using an opioid is at risk for overdose.

"Patients who are using opioids appropriately oftentimes think that it couldn't happen to them, that they couldn't overdose because they're using their medications appropriately and as prescribed,” she says. “But unfortunately, we know that that's not necessarily the case."

Nearly 35,000 people died across the country from opioid or heroin overdose in 2015, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Earlier this month, President Donald Trump declared the opioid epidemic a national emergency.

Brewster says Columbia Pacific is working with clinics and hospitals to find alternatives to prescribing opioids for pain management and increasing access to naloxone, a medication used to block the effects of opioids in the event of an overdose. She says Columbia Pacific also is working to increase access to medication-assisted treatments.

"We recognize that patients that are on opioids for a long time may develop physical dependence or an addiction to these medications, and the most effective treatment for opioid-use disorders is medication-assisted treatment with medications like buprenorphine or Suboxone," she states.

Brewster says there's been a dramatic decline in prescribing opioids for pain management, and that is leading to a decline in overdose deaths as well.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR