Remembering those who died of preventable overdoses

August 27, 2014

Health Department staff who have worked for years to prevent fatal overdoses will take part in a memorial on Wednesday, Sept. 3 to remember those who have died.

People will light candles and read names from 6 p.m to 8 p.m. at Outside In, 1132 S.W. 13th Ave. in Portland. The event is part of International Overdose Awareness Day, held to reduce the stigma and raise awareness about addiction and overdoses.

Retired Multnomah County Health Officer Dr. Gary Oxman and Haven Wheelock of Outside In are expected to speak, along with others whose lives have been affected by overdose.

Opiate overdoses are preventable and since 2011, the Health Department has attacked the issue on several fronts. Staff studied and tracked the high rate of overdoses in Multnomah County. Dr. Oxman worked to change prescribing policies in county medical clinics and among community providers.

In 2013, Dr. Oxman, Kim Toevs, STD/HIV/Hepatitis C, program manager and Lindsay Jenkins, analyst and program evaluator for the county’s syringe exchange, helped develop the data that the Legislature relied on to authorize wider use of Naloxone, a generic, low-cost prescription drug that can immediately reverse a person's opiate overdose.

Since July 2013, working through a county-funded program, Outside In’s Wheelock has trained more than 800 community members on how to administer naloxone. Since May 2014, the Health Department has trained more than 150 people through syringe exchange sites. As of Aug. 15, 2014, more than 400 overdoses reversals have been reported in the metro area through the two naloxone programs.

Maayan Simckes, an epidemiology fellow through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists, said heroin overdoses in Multnomah County have gone down since last year.

“It’s exciting,’’ said Simckes. “After only a year, we have already seen change within our community. Lives are being saved and awareness is being raised by putting this life-saving tool into the hands of people who most need it.’’

The team continues to track, train and educate the community. Staff appeared in a popular NerdNite in May 2014 and will have an educational display at the McCoy Building, 426 S.W. Stark, beginning Sept. 2.

Staff also helped spur the Healthy Columbia Willamette Collaborative, a coalition of all area hospitals and health systems, to name safer opiate prescribing as a top priority for the region’s providers. Members of the public have also stepped forward.

"Overdose has impacted many of our clients,’’ said the Health Department’s Jenkins. “They have been incredibly engaged in our trainings and grateful to carry naloxone. They’re making a difference and it shows."