Oregon Opiates: Governor Declares State of Emergency

On Tuesday, February 13, Governor Kate Brown addressed Oregonians from the capitol to declare a public health crisis. The crisis: opiate addiction, and according to Brown, Oregon is in a state of emergency. 

A week before releasing this statement, Brown presented House Bill 4143 to a large group of bipartisan supporters in Salem, known since last September as the Opioid Epidemic Task Force. The bill lists a series of goals to assist officials in combating the epidemic of opiate and opioid addiction currently ravaging our state, where, according to the Oregon Health Authority, 250 people died in 2017; many more were sent to the hospital, all due to overdoses. According to a report from the Statesman Journal, the three most commonly abused opiates in the state are methadone, oxycodone, and hydrocodone. 

The fine print in HB 4143 describes a three-step system, which Brown believes will be crucial to staving the opiate and opioid epidemic, and most importantly, will help Oregonians work towards “improving access to appropriate treatments, collecting data to drive our policies, and reducing stigma,” as she stated on Tuesday.

The first goal set by the bill aims to urge Oregon doctors currently prescribing opiates to comply with state officials by requiring all doctors and prescribers  to register with a prescription drug monitoring program. Monitoring medications, explained Brown and her colleagues, would allow physicians to check which drugs patients were given in the past, thus keeping addicts from “shopping” for medication at different clinics.

The second aim of HB 4143 is to support new studies that could help combat addiction. More specifically, studying barriers to medication-assisted substance abuse treatment like the opioid medication buprenorphine – better known as Suboxone – which in the treatment world is still wrought with stigma, despite the fact that the drug has, according to a 2015 study in the Journal of Public Health, been shown to “decrease mortality [in opiate and opioid addicts] by 60 percent over a year.”

The last objective detailed in the bill is to facilitate peer substance abuse recovery counseling, which will mean placing recovering addicts in areas where they can communicate with other addicts, assisting in the initial recovery process as a whole. Pilot programs created to test the efficacy of such interactions will begin soon in counties Marion, Multnomah, Coos, and Jackson, where groups of previously addicted individuals will now serve as mentors for victims of opiate addiction.

HB 4143 – now labeled HB 4143-A – is currently in committee and will soon move to the House. The full text of Brown’s amendment can be found at https://olis.leg.state.or.us/liz/2018R1/Downloads/MeasureDocument/HB4143.

By Kiki Genoa