Representative James Hieb, from Canby, appeared before the House Committee On Behavioral Health and Health Care at the Oregon State Capitol this week, sharing testimony that was deeply personal and heartfelt in support of House Bill 2395-2, aimed at preventing opioid overdoses that kill hundreds of Oregonians each year and account for a growing portion of the state’s addiction epidemic.
Deaths from opioid abuse have surged in Oregon in recent years. Opioid overdoses killed 745 Oregonians in 2021, according to data from the Oregon Health Authority, compared to 280 two years earlier. While the opioid epidemic is a nationwide problem, it is an especially urgent issue in Oregon, which ranks second in overall addiction rates — and last in access to treatment.
Representative Maxine Dexter, a Portland Democrat and critical care physician, introduced legislation last month aimed at improving access to one particular treatment option — naloxone kits — including making them available at schools, public buildings and for emergency personnel.
Hieb was the first Republican to join the effort as a chief sponsor, which he explained in the hearing was due to his personal experience of having lost two brothers to opioid overdoses. He also lost his father, who committed suicide, as a result of the tragedies.
“Opiates have taken so much from my family,” Hieb said Monday. “When I was in grade school, my grandpa was run over by a man high on heroin. When I was in the Marine Corps, I got the news that my closest cousin had died from a methadone overdose. [My brother] Joseph from fentanyl. My dad, from a broken heart. [My brother] Daniel from heroin.”
According to proponents, HB 2395-2 would provide support and resources and expand treatment options for those suffering from opioid addiction — including greatly increasing the availability of naloxone, an affordable treatment medicine that has been proven to rapidly reduce or even reverse the effects of opioid overdose in as little as two minutes.
“I know many people who have survived, have gone through recovery, and are alive today because of naloxone,” Hieb testified. “These people aren’t just addicts; they’re our family and they’re our friends. If we don’t supply these people with naloxone, people are going to have to continue to endure this heartache.”
Opioids come in different forms, including prescription painkillers and illegally manufactured synthetic drugs. One particularly deadly form that is growing in prevalence in Oregon is fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 80 to 100 times more powerful than morphine and 30 to 50 times more powerful than heroin.
A three-milligram dose of fentanyl — which amounts to just a few grains of the substance — is enough to kill an average adult male.
The latest version of HB 2395-2 is available here.
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