I read the report from Secretary of State Dennis Richardson on Tuesday concerning the work the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) has been doing (or not doing, as he characterized it) to deal with the opioid crisis.
I have been on the front lines of this work for over a dozen years and currently work as the contract health officer for Jackson County as well as serve as a consultant for the OHA on opioid matters. I sit on the Governor’s Task Force for opioids and attend many meetings around the state which deal with the opioid crisis. I know this issue and Oregon’s response to this epidemic quite well.
First let me say that the secretary of state is quite right concerning fixes needed to the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP). The OHA, the Governor’s Task Force and many other players are well aware of the program’s deficiencies, many of which were baked in by the Legislature upon creation of the program years ago. A number of the secretary’s recommendations are being discussed and proposed for this legislative session.
The PDMP is only one of the tools necessary to resolve this crisis, however. The OHA, in partnership with Jackson County Public Health, is and has been actively working with practicing physicians, corrections experts, nonprofit groups, county government, judges, addiction and pain specialists, mental health professionals and legislators, bringing those leaders together to create collaborative solutions to the opioid crisis.
I have been very impressed with the civility and passion Oregon’s leaders have brought to the table. Many innovative solutions have grown out of this collective work. Here is some of the work your OHA is undertaking:
- It has Prescription Drug Overdose coordinators in every high-burden region of the state, whose job it is to bring communities together to educate and problem solve their region’s unique concerns.
- Pain Management Improvement Teams are providing needed skills to medical practices all over Oregon, from very rural communities to urban centers, under the oversight of the OHA.
- The OHA supports our eighth annual statewide pain and addiction conference bringing a diverse group of providers together to share best practices to solving this crisis. Last year we had almost 450 attendees. Additionally, over a dozen regional summits across Oregon have been held encouraging local leadership.
- There are work groups and tele-medicine projects working on best practices for opioid tapering, addiction, pain management, and hospital integration of addiction treatment. Public education is a key component of OHA’s outreach work.
- Peers are being integrated into hospital emergency departments to guide those with overdoses and other high-risk behaviors into treatment in real time.
Oregon has taken a strong public health response to this crisis. Although some statistics indicate we clearly have work to do, there are others that suggest we are on the right track.
In 1999, Oregon had an overdose mortality rate placing us 12th in the nation for opioid deaths. In 2017 we were 39th, and one of only 14 states where the mortality rate was decreasing. I am proud to be working alongside the Oregon Health Authority to help keep Oregonians safe.
Jim Shames, M.D., is public health officer for Jackson County.