Oregon Governor signs bill for overdose prevention programs
On Thursday, January 6th, Oregon Governor, John Kitzhaber, signed SB 384 A into law. The bill requires the Oregon Health Authority to establish rules for training programs that will instruct individuals on “lifesaving treatments for opiate overdose.”
On Thursday, January 6, Oregon Governor, John Kitzhaber, signed SB 384 Ainto law–the bill requires the Oregon Health Authority to establish rules and regulations for training programs that will instruct individuals on lifesaving treatments for opiate overdose. The law additionally allows professionals, licensed by the Pharmacy Board, to distribute naloxone– a drug capable of reversing opiate overdose–to individuals that have completed the training program. These trainees are granted immunity from civil and criminal liability when administering naloxone in good faith to treat opiate overdoses. The law reaches the Governor’s desk after being passed nearly unanimously through both Houses, receiving only one nay vote from Representative Bob Jenson (R-Pendleton).
These types of programs, which target individuals who use drugs and intend to mitigate the negative effects of drug use, are part of a pragmatic approach adopted by policy-makers known as harm reduction. Oregon has historically been a progressive leader on harm reduction issues. In 1987 Oregon was one of the first states to address the issue of clean syringe access near the height of the AIDS epidemic, excluding syringes from its drug paraphernalia statute.
Harm reduction policies have often been controversial, as opponents of the policies claim that these laws seem to condone drug use. In Oregon, The Oregon Trial Lawyers Association voiced their concern over the granting of immunity to those who have broken the law by using or possessing drugs in testimonygiven to the House Committee on Health Care, which reviewed the proposal.
However, the overwhelming legislative support accorded to the bill could be attributed to the increase in the drug overdose rates in Oregon, which had the highest rate of illicit drug use nationally in 2010-2011. Overdose rates have skyrocketed due to the increased availability and use of designer, prescription drugs, containing powerful opiates such as Oxycodone, Hydrocodone and Methadone. According to a report by the Oregon Health Authority as part of the Governor’s Workshop on Prescription Drug Misuse, 53 percent of drug overdoses recorded in Oregon were associated with prescription drug use, and according to testimonydelivered by Dr. Gary Oxman to both houses, prescription drug overdose deaths in Oregon increased 400 percent from 2000 to 2011.
As prescription drug abuse has increased, the problem of drug overdose has spread beyond the traditionally marginalized groups of “social pariahs” that are normally associated with drug use. From 1992 to 2011 the percentage of youth under 26, admitted for treatment of prescription drug abuse more than doubled. Young people and adults who are prescribed opiates to treat chronic pain or other conditions may become addicted to opiates, and in turn face increased risk of overdose. Forty-five percent of Oregon heroin users reported becoming addicted to prescription drugs before moving to heroin.
In light of this trend, the face of the drug-user has changed. The increased exposure of the young and the elderly to the risk of overdose has made the of harm reduction a central issue in Oregon. The moving testimonyof Representative Jennifer Williamson, who represents the west-side of Portland, is evidence of this fact. In 2010 Representative Williamson’s mother overdosed on her pain medication and nearly died after her pharmacy changed her dosage without her realizing. Representative Williamson’s mother was able to receive life-saving treatment at the nearby emergency room, but the same options might not be available to other Oregonians dealing with overdose.
As noted in Dr. Oxman’s testimony, similar policies have already been adopted in other states and have shown to reduce overdose deaths by 37 to 90 percent, depending on the size and scope of the distribution efforts. These programs are also relatively cost-efficient given the life-saving benefits they can have. In recognition of the urgency of the issue, under the provisions of the bill, the law goes into effect immediately.
By Matthew DeLuca
Jun 8, 2013