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County overdose alert to continue following recent death

An overdose alert that Jackson County instituted at the beginning of March will continue due a recent overdose death, emergency hospitalizations and law enforcement responses to overdosess that remain at above-average levels.

The latest overdose death, reported the week of March 7, was the fourth fatality since Feb. 14. The three others were reported between Feb. 14-27.

“We really haven’t seen that in quite a while, and it’s definitely concerning,” said Tanya Phillips, Jackson County health promotion manager.

Overdose alerts are intended to raise awareness and remind people about addiction treatment options. Until recently the county had color-coded alerts, with yellow signaling a moderate warning and red representing a severe warning. Now all alerts fall under the same umbrella. That’s mostly due to the county having low numbers overall, public health officials have said.

Prior to Feb. 14, police agencies participating in the county’s ongoing overdose surveillance program had responded to an average of fewer than one overdose a week. From Feb. 14 to this week, it’s increased to an average of 2.3 per week, according to county data.

Police are learning more about the sudden overdose uptick, saying the synthetic opioid fentanyl, is responsible. Pharmaceutical fentanyl is approved to treat severe pain, typically from advanced-stage cancer. It is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

But the drug is also made and sold illegally, frequently mixed with heroin batches. It can also be sold in pill form and marketed as oxycontin.

“I believe [the recent overdoses are] directly linked to fentanyl,” Medford police Lt. Mike Budreau said. “We think it’s a trend that may be here to stay, unfortunately.”

“It used to be rather unusual for fentanyl to be found in heroin. It wasn’t unheard of; it just wasn’t the norm,” Budreau added. “Now it seems it’s more the rule, and straight heroin without fentanyl is the exception.”

Treatment resources are available online at https://oregonrecoverynetwork.org. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration help line, 1-800-662-4357, offers free, confidential assistance for individuals and families dealing with mental health issues or substance abuse disorders.

Jackson County’s syringe exchange program also provides referrals for treatment services. People who use the program can receive free naloxone, an opioid overdose antidote. More information is available at jacksoncountyor.org/hhs/Public-Health/Syringe-Exchange.

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