Spotlight: Opioid Abuse

Fighting the Opioid Epidemic

Opioid abuse is spreading like wildfire across our county. It is not limited to just street drugs like heroin, nor is it limited to just prescription drugs left in the bathroom cabinet. Fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid, is emerging as a new threat to our state’s safety and health. The Oregon DOJ and Attorney General Ellen F. Rosenblum are confronting this problem head-on.

A National Issue

  • The U.S. opioid epidemic is just that – an epidemic.
  • Drug overdose deaths nearly tripled from 1999 to 2014.
  • Between 2013 and 2014, opioid overdose deaths increased 14 percent.
  • In the next year, 2014 to 2015, death rate from synthetic opioids increased by 72.2 percent. Heroin death rates increased by 20.6 percent.
  • Hospitalizations related to opioid misuse and dependence have increased, with the rate of adult hospital inpatient stays per 100,000 population nearly doubling between 2000 and 2012.
  • Oregon has a relatively high rate of inpatient stays or emergency department (ED) visits. In 2014, 307 visits were recorded, compared to a national rate of 224.6.
  • In February 2017, The New York Times covered a heartbreaking story about a recent spike in Louisville, Kentucky », where in a span of 32 hours, emergency workers responded to nearly 2 calls per hour for overdoses of opiates.
  • The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 91 people die every day in the United States from opioid overdose ».
  • A recent CDC report published in 2016 (PDF) » states: “There is an urgent need for a multifaceted, collaborative public health and law enforcement approach to the opioid epidemic, including implementing the CDC Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain; improving access to and use of prescription drug monitoring programs; expanding naloxone distribution; enhancing opioid use disorder treatment capacity and linkage into treatment, including medication-assisted treatment; implementing harm reduction approaches, such as syringe services program; and supporting law enforcement strategies to reduce the illicit opioid supply.”

Oregon’s Response

In 2015, Oregon was the first state to take action against Insys, the maker of a sublingual fentanyl spray which was only approved to treat breakthrough cancer pain. We alleged that Insys promoted the fentanyl spray to treat neck and back pain, and migraines – for which it was neither safe nor effective – and made improper payments to prescribers to promote sales. Our settlement required Insys to pay more than two times its total book of business in Oregon. We used much of the recovery to fund the approaches suggested in the CDC report.

Attorney General Rosenblum dedicated money to the Oregon Coalition for Responsible Use of Meds (OrCRM) » and the Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) », and their work to combat opioid abuse in the state. The funding came from a $1.1 million settlement reached between the Oregon DOJ and Insys over the unlawful promotion of the powerful opioid Subsys. As part of the Insys settlement, in addition to changes in how Subsys can be promoted in Oregon, $567,000 was allocated to an organization identified by Attorney General Rosenblum to prevent opioid misuse.

“The stories we hear about the astonishingly high rate of opioid addiction and abuse in Oregon are heartbreaking,” said Attorney General Rosenblum. “Both OHSU and OrCRM fill a significant need in our state—and I’m proud that the Oregon Department of Justice can further their efforts and join them in a public education campaign to reduce opioid abuse.”

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