With an opioid epidemic plaguing communities across the state, Oregon lawmakers approved a measure earlier this month that, in part, establishes a pilot project to tackle the issue.
The pilot would determine the effectiveness of immediate access to evidence-based treatment for persons who overdose on opioids. This includes using peer recovery support mentors to facilitate the link with emergency department professionals. It also calls for appropriate treatment, resources and programming aimed at reducing deaths caused by opioid and opiate overdoses. The pilot program will launch first in Coos, Jackson, Marion and Multnomah counties.
“This is a serious problem plaguing too many Oregonians and too many communities,” said state Rep. Sheri Malstrom, D-Beaverton, who carried the bill on the floor. "Opioids, when used properly, can provide patients with much-needed pain relief. Sadly, these medications, when used improperly, can devastate lives, families, and communities."
According to the Oregon Health Authority's Public Health Division, Oregon has one of the highest rates of prescription opioid abuse in the nation. On average, three Oregonians die every week from prescription opioid overdoses, and many more develop opioid use disorders.
This legislation, a priority for Gov. Kate Brown, builds off the work she started in 2017 with the creation of the Opioid Epidemic Task Force. The task force brought forth this legislation with the intention of tackling this epidemic through a multipronged approach.
The legislation also requires the Department of Consumer and Business Services, in consultation with OHA, to study and report on existing barriers to effective treatment for, and recovery from, substance use disorders. Practitioners also must register with Oregon’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program to ensure the development, administration and evaluation of best practices in prescribing opioids and opiates.
“Opioid addiction is a national problem, but it’s particularly alarming how much it is affecting our communities right here in Oregon,” said state Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, D-Beaverton, who sponsored the bill in the Senate. “Opioid addiction is not an urban or rural issue. It’s an Oregon issue. What often starts out as treatment of pain can become something much more serious for individuals. I am proud to support this legislation. This won’t solve the problem entirely, but it’s a very good start.”
According to Mental Health America, one in 10 Oregonians suffer from some form of addiction, and the state ranks fourth in the nation in youth addiction rates. Oregon Recovers Director Mike Marshall spoke in favor of the bill during the committee process.
“Insurance barriers to treatment and recovery support exist across the board and are not limited simply to those suffering from addiction to opioids,” Marshall said.
“Identifying those barriers and identifying solutions will also positively improve the state’s Alcohol and Drug Policy Commission’s efforts to create a new continuum of care model," Marshall continued. "Although the intention of HB 4143 is to tackle the challenges of the opioid epidemic, it will have a much larger, positive impact on the state’s efforts to reduce Oregon’s exceptionally high addiction rates and increase the number of people in recovery.”
Brown is expected to sign the bill into law later this month. In addition to requesting this legislation, Brown traveled to Washington, D.C. to testify before the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. She shared state-level information and perspectives on the opioid crisis and discussed how to better address the crisis at the federal level.
"Opioid abuse can begin as easily as reaching into the average family medicine cabinet," Brown told the panel. "Addiction is blind to circumstance, but the high costs of addiction are borne by our children, whose parents are unable to care for them while struggling with substance abuse. In Oregon, 60 percent of foster children have at least one parent with substance abuse issues, including opioids.
“If we can make meaningful change in prevention, treatment and recovery from substance abuse, we can create better lives for our families," Brown continued. "We can see more success for students in our schools. We would lift a burden off our hospitals. And our law enforcement. And our prisons."