Clackamas County Public Health on Tuesday issued a public health advisory to call attention to the county’s fentanyl crisis — as evidenced by a sharp increase of overdoses of the powerful and potentially deadly opioid.
Last year, opioid overdose hospitalizations increased 18%, officials said, while hospitalizations related to fentanyl and other synthetic opioids more than doubled. Oregon now ranks first in prescription opioid misuse and dead last in access to treatment — with one in five Oregonians needing but not receiving treatment.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opiate found in counterfeit prescription drugs, estimated to be 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. Even a small amount can be lethal.
“Even sampling just one pill can end their life,” Cheryl Sharkey, a nurse with the Oregon City School District, told reporters at a county-organized press event Tuesday.
Two Portland teens died within 24 hours of each other after taking pills laced with fentanyl just last month, while the largest fentanyl seizure in Oregon history was made at a Clackamas County Home Depot recently.
Officials say the drug is being widely used by residents in the tri-county area and across the state, both intentionally and unintentionally by taking a pill thought to be a regulated prescription drug like Oxycontin or Xanax — but which actually contained fentanyl.
“There is not a certain type of person who is impacted by overdose from fake pills,” said Clackamas County Public Health Director Philip Mason-Joyner. “It affects everyone.”
Officials warn that teens and youth are being targeted online, as social media platforms are increasingly used to buy and sell drugs, many of which are counterfeit.
“Parents and trusted adults should talk to teens about the dangers of fake pills and how to stay safe while online,” Mason-Joyner continued. “Maintain open communication and remind youth that drugs or medications that are not taken as prescribed from a doctor or pharmacist could contain fentanyl and be very dangerous.”
Resources and support services are available through Clackamas County, local school districts and community organizations serving those at risk of substance use. Some school districts, like Oregon City, are providing training and access to naloxone, a medicine proven effective at treating opioid overdoses in emergency situations, at all school facilities.
Sharkey wrote the policy mandating Narcan, a prescription nasal spray treatment containing naloxone, be available at all district campuses and on buses.
“[The training] will be for all of our health room assistants at all of our elementary, middle and high schools,” Sharkey said. “And then we’ll proceed by the end of the month to have Narcan kits in every facility.”
Clackamas County has also made naloxone kits available to other schools and organizations serving people at risk of substance abuse.
“Opioids like fentanyl kill by decreasing your brain’s drive to breathe,” Clackamas County Public Health Officer Dr. Sarah Present said. “Naloxone reverses that, and keeps a person alive and breathing, at least for the amount of time that you can get emergency services there.”
She said naloxone is also available at all pharmacies. A prescription is not required, but the drug is free for anyone who has a prescription.
Below are resources for anyone who would like to start the conversation, or who is struggling with substance abuse.
Alcohol and drug support lines:
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