Alyssa Sutton

Union County is one of four counties in Eastern Oregon receiving federal funds to fight opioid abuse in partnership with the Oregon Health Authority.

Umatilla, Union, Baker and Malheur counties will together receive $200,000 over two years, which health departments in those counties will use to target prescription drug abuse in the area.

The funds are dispersed through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration –– a branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services –– to designated states. Each state then distributes the funds to regions that are highly impacted by opioid addiction.

The money for Eastern Oregon will be distributed to Umatilla County, where the money will support the efforts of Mike Stensrud, the new prescription drug overdose prevention coordinator who will split his time among the four counties.

“Mostly my job is getting the word out there about what the issue is, and how it’s impacting the region,” Stensrud said.

According to OHA data collected this year, roughly 268 out of every 1,000 residents in Union County are prescribed opioids. Baker County follows closely behind with just under 247 residents per 1,000 receiving prescriptions. In Umatilla County just under 173 per 1,000 residents are prescribed opioids, while in Malheur County approximately 168 residents out of every 1,000 residents are prescribed opioids.

In addition, Union County has had a higher percentage of hospitalizations due to opioid overdose than any of the surrounding counties. In the last five years, there were seven opioid deaths in Union County, while Malheur County had 12 deaths. According to the data listed by the OHA, there were no opioid deaths in Baker or Umatilla counties in the same time period.

Over the next few years, Stensrud will hold presentations and forums at health fairs, hospitals, clinics and middle and high schools about opioid addiction.

In addition, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration will aim to increase local participation in Oregon’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, a database that allows pharmacies and physicians to document and monitor patient prescriptions.

For the complete story, see the Dec. 29 edition of The Observer.