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Press Release Local Health Organizations Form Opioid Task Force

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Area health and safety organizations recently formed a task force to help address the growing public health crisis surrounding addiction to prescription pain medications. 

The group began meeting in August and includes representatives from local health care providers in Linn, Benton and Lincoln counties, law enforcement agencies, Oregon State University, county health departments and the region’s Coordinated Care Organization, IHN-CCO.   

“We are working to develop a multi-faceted approach to addressing this vitally important issue, for the health of our patients and the larger community,” said Task Force Chair Ryan Combs, Vice President for Primary and Specialty Services at Samaritan Health Services. 

In recent years, Oregon has led the nation in the estimated rate of non-medical use of prescription pain medicine, also called opioids. Over the past decade in Oregon, the number of opioid overdose deaths increased by 450 percent and currently claims more lives annually than auto accidents. Similar trends are being seen locally, officials say. 

“Over the past several years, the number of prescription drugs on the street has been on rise,” said Linn County Undersheriff Jim Yon. “During this same time period, we have also seen a sharp rise in the use and possession of heroin.”  

In 2014, then-Gov. John Kitzhaber appointed a Prescription Drug Task Force to address Oregon’s opioid epidemic. The group developed a plan encompassing five major recommendations:

• Oregon needs fewer opioid pills in circulation;
• Oregon needs public education on the risks and limits of opioids;
• Oregon needs ways to safely dispose of unwanted prescription opioids;
• Oregon needs to provide treatment for people addicted to prescription opioids;
• Oregon needs continued leadership from state leaders, health plans and Coordinated Care Organizations.  

The local task force plans to use the framework of the state’s plan to develop local strategies, as well as leverage state and national resources, Combs said. 

“It is important that we develop a consistent strategy locally so health care providers, educators and law enforcement agencies are working together toward common goals,” Combs said.   

Combs said the task force is developing an opioid prescription policy for local health providers, working to enhance treatment and support resources for patients and families, and exploring a public awareness and education effort for the larger community.  

“We hope to have some elements of our plan ready to implement early next year,” Combs said. “The task force members share a sense of urgency to get this important work underway.”