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Red alert for opioid overdoses still in place

Jackson County Public Health says local opioid overdoses were higher than normal for the second week in a row, keeping a so-called "red alert" in place.

A "red alert" is issued by Jackson County Public Health after the identification of a spike or an increase in fatal and non-fatal overdoses, according to a news release.Though no additional suspect fatalities from illicit opioids were reported, the health department cited "an increase in emergency department admissions and law enforcement and emergency support services deployment of Narcan."

Local emergency rooms typically see an average of about two heroin overdose patients per week, according to Tanya Phillips with Jackson County Public Health. The weeks of Dec. 15-21 and Dec. 22-28, by comparison, saw nine apiece, or 18 total, she said. Medford, Central Point and Talent police departments have reported 11 deployments of naloxone, an opioid overdose-reversing drug, during that two-week period, Phillips said. Other agencies such as Ashland police and the Jackson County Sheriff's Department are not yet included in the data.

"That's something we're actively working on," Phillips said.

These numbers also do not include 911 calls for overdoses.

"That isn't something that public health collects," Phillips said of such emergency calls not being included. "If someone is overdosing, it doesn't necessarily mean that it's from an illicit opiate like heroin."

By comparison, there is a specific diagnostic code showing someone admitted to a hospital emergency room did overdose from heroin or another "illicit" opiate, Phillips added.Most of the first week's nine overdoses fell on Friday, Dec. 20, while the second week's nine were more spread out, Phillips said.

The red alert was first issued Dec. 21following several reported overdoses and one confirmed fatality that swept through the county. Officials believe some heroin entered the county that was particularly potent, or adulterated with the synthetic opioid fentanyl, according to Monday's news release.

"This is just the tip of the iceberg," Phillips said of the data available to the health department.

Local nonprofits Max's Mission and Compassion Highway Project joined forces to distribute free naloxone, the opioid-overdose-reversing drug, on Dec. 21. Jackson County Public Health also gave Compassion Highway Project around 60 doses of the naloxone, according to a Facebook post shared by Compassion Highway Project's founder and executive director, Melissa Mayne.

People who haven't used in a while are at greater risk for overdose, Jackson County Public Health officials said. The best way to avoid is to abstain from use.

For those interested in pursuing medication-assisted treatment or other addiction services, a list of drug treatment providers is available here.

Having an overdose plan, beginning with using near a trusted person, is another aspect of the effort to save lives. Naloxone, also called Narcan, is available by prescription from anyone who can prescribe medications, including any pharmacist in Oregon.

Even if an overdose victim is treated with naloxone, call 911. One dose of naloxone may not prevent a coma after the medication wears off.

Good Samaritan Law in Oregon protects callers from being prosecuted or arrested for drug-related charges of parole or probation violation for giving information to emergency responders.

Reach web editor Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanPfeil.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Kaylee Tornay at ktornay@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497. Follow her on Twitter @ka_tornay.