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Jackson County hit with spate of heroin overdoses

Jackson County Public Health officials issued an alert this week about a spike in nonfatal overdoses from heroin.

A particularly potent batch of heroin may be in the area, or heroin could be laced with fentanyl — a potentially deadly narcotic used as pain medication and for anesthesia.

Health officials said emergency departments, paramedics and police officers responded to a cluster of nonfatal heroin overdoses from June 19-22.

Local paramedics and police officers carry the overdose reversal medication naloxone to treat people in the field.

Health officials are asking people who suffer from addiction, their friends and family members, medical personnel and other community partners to be aware and take steps to help prevent overdose deaths.

Abstaining from drug use is the best way to eliminate the risk of overdosing. Ask people with addiction about their willingness to begin a drug treatment program, including medication-assisted treatment. Medication-assisted treatment uses prescription drugs to help ease cravings and curb withdrawal symptoms from opioids such as heroin and Oxycontin pain pills.

For a list of addiction treatment providers and more information about responding to an overdose, visit the Stay Safe Oregon website at staysafeoregon.com.

Health officials said people who haven’t used drugs in a while may relapse. They are at increased risk because their tolerance for opioids is lower than when they were actively using drugs.

For people who continue to use, create a safety plan and only use with a person who is available to help.

Anyone who uses opioids or knows someone who does should have naloxone, the overdose antidote. Naloxone is available in an easy-to-use nasal spray. It restores breathing for overdose victims whose breathing has slowed or stopped.

Naloxone prescriptions are available through pharmacists and any health care provider who can write prescriptions.

People who use Jackson County’s syringe exchange program can receive free naloxone. The program is housed at the Health and Human Services building, 140 S. Holly St., Medford.

The local nonprofit Max’s Mission holds regular community events to distribute free naloxone and offer quick training on how to recognize an overdose and administer the antidote.

The next event is from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 24, at the Medford library, 205 S. Central Ave. People who can’t attend but need a naloxone kit can call 458-225-9760.

Always call 911 if someone is overdosing, even if you have administered naloxone.

The overdose antidote is temporary and the person may fall back into an overdose state and die.

Oregon’s Good Samaritan Law protects people from being arrested or prosecuted for drug-related charges or parole or probation violations based on information they provide to emergency responders.

Health officials warn never to mix drugs, because taking them together can lead to dangerous interactions.

For example, opioids, alcohol and benzodiazepines such as Xanax and Valium all suppress breathing. Taking them together increases overdose risk, health officials said.

Jackson County suffered a wave of fatal heroin overdoses in the spring of 2018, prompting officials to warn the public about risks from particularly strong heroin batches in the area and the potentially deadly additive fentanyl.

Jackson County health officials issued overdose alerts again in the fall and winter of 2018, but credited growing community access to naloxone for saving many lives.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.