Alyssa Sutton

Oregon House Bill 4143, which aims to lessen the state’s increasing opioid addiction crisis, unanimously passed the Oregon House and Senate on Friday.

The bill requires the Director of the Department of Consumer and Business Services to study and report on barriers to effective treatment for –– and recovery from –– substance use disorder, including addictions to opioids.

Opioid use has become a rising concern in Oregon. In 2016, 506 Oregonians died of an opioid overdose. According to Oregon Health Authority data collected last year, roughly 268 out of every 1,000 residents in Union County are prescribed opioids, resulting in a higher percentage of hospitalizations due to opioid overdose than any of the surrounding counties.

HB 4143 mandates that the DCBS report must be submitted to the Legislative Assembly no later than June 30, 2018, and must include findings on access to medication-assisted treatment for substance use disorders in rural and underserved areas of the state.

The Observer reported in December 2017 that Union County is one of the four counties in Eastern Oregon receiving federal funds to fight opioid abuse in partnership with OHA. Umatilla, Union, Baker and Malheur counties will together receive $200,000 over two years, to be used by health departments in those counties 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 by Umatilla County-based Mike Stensrud, the new prescription drug overdose prevention coordinator who is splitting 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 told The Observer in December.

According to HB 4143, OHA is required to establish a pilot project –– which will receive $2,000,000 through the state’s General Funds –– to determine the effectiveness of establishing immediate access to appropriate evidence-based treatment for people who suffer opioid and opiate overdoses. The pilot project will be conducted in Coos, Jackson, Marion and Multnomah counties.

The passing of the Oregon legislation coincides with a nationwide legislative push by Rep. Greg Walden (R-Hood River) to advance concrete solutions to address the opioid epidemic. According to a press release, Walden, who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee, led a hearing, the first of three, on Wednesday titled “Combating the Opioid Crisis: Helping Communities Balance Enforcement and Patient Safety.” The hearings will examine eight legislative initiatives to combat the nationwide crisis.

See complete story in Monday's Observer