In the community

Health department survey aims to assess nonfatal overdoses from fentanyl

ONTARIO – A survey created by the Malheur County Health Department aims to gauge the local frequency of nonfatal overdoses triggered by fentanyl.
The Overdose Response Survey is anonymous and available on the Malheur County Health Department’s web page.
The survey is designed to help measure the number of nonfatal overdoses not reported through a hospital visit or documented by police.
“Many friends, family, and bystanders are reversing overdoses with Naloxone, a life-saving medicine,” the survey introduction notes. “However, these measures often go unreported and the data available to show how the opioid use is affecting our area does not reflect that many people are using and nearly dying.”
Anecdotal evidence from emergency service providers indicates the overdoses from the use of illegal narcotics in the county continues to rise. With no hard numbers, though, agencies such as the health department can’t seek state and federal funds to reduce overdoses.
“We have so many people using drugs and overdosing with drugs containing fentanyl. People are dying,” said Sarah Poe, Malheur County Health Department director.
The survey was created by Hannah Roy, the health department’s health promotion and prevention specialist who said state funding could help the health department hire an overdose response coordinator.
Such a coordinator, said Roy, would work with police and other emergency service providers by going on overdose calls, distributing Narcan – the brand name for naloxone used to reverse an opioid overdose – and creating media campaigns to educate the public.
“The more funding we have then hopefully we can prevent more overdoses,” said Roy.
Poe, though, said now the county doesn’t have the data to show there is an overdose challenge.
“Right now, the state is saying you don’t have the problem other counties do,” said Poe.
Poe said that isn’t the assessment of local health care and treatment providers.
“We know we have a drug problem in Malheur County. We need data to support that evidence that we sense through our programs,” said Poe.
While hospitals and law enforcement do track overdoses, they use different databases to record such emergencies.
One system, called ODMAP, provides suspected overdose information but isn’t comprehensive, said Poe.
“Our hospital and ambulances responding to an overdose, their systems don’t talk to ODMAP and law enforcement doesn’t necessarily use ODMAP,” said Poe.
Also, many of those who use illegal drugs are reluctant to call emergency services because they fear arrest. Oregon does have a Good Samaritan law. Under the law, if an individual does overdose and someone seeks medical help for them, neither can be arrested or prosecuted for drug-related crimes stemming from the episode.
Roy said the health department collects most of its overdose information through the agencies certified recovery mentors. These are individuals trained to help those who are battling addiction.
“They have a history of substance abuse, either themselves or a family member. People who use drugs feel safe enough to tell our peer recovery mentors about overdoses,” said Roy. “What we can do is make sure if you are doing drugs you are doing it safety and guide you toward treatment.”
Roy said many of those battling addiction in the county are using fentanyl.
“We are a very poor area and fentanyl is the cheapest, the highest high for the lowest price,” said Roy.
Poe said the survey results could improve chances for getting state help.
“There are all these agencies working so hard and feeling the impact of fentanyl in our community and then to hear from the state we are actually in the bottom percentage in overdoses, that is not our experience living here,” said Poe.
Ontario Police Chief Mike Iwai said his officers respond to an “alarming number” of overdoses.
“Fentanyl is a major issue in this county. It far exceeds any other drug being seized by the High Desert Drug Task Force. Meth is second but it isn’t even a close second,” said Iwai.

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected] .

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