Price of Addiction: CDC report underscores what Oregon already knows

Portland Business Journal, July 9, 2015

POA1A report out this week detailing how heroin use has surged in the U.S. came as no surprise to Dr. Marvin Seppala, chief medical officer of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation.

“We’ve had significant heroin problem in Oregon for decades,” Seppala said. “Everything suggests it’s continued to worsen.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s report showed heroin use grew by 63 percent over the past decade to 2.6 out of every 1,000 U.S. residents 12 and over. It also doubled among women and shot up 60 percent among the middle class, or people with annual household incomes of at least $50,000.

“We used to think of heroin as an inner city problem, affecting lower socio-economic groups,” Seppala said. “That’s no longer the case. It’s a problem in rural areas, as well as the inner city.”

The numbers underscore an underlying driver of the phenomenon — people switching from prescription opioids, such as Oxycontin, to heroin, which is chemically similar but cheaper and more available. About 45 percent of heroin users have transitioned from prescription narcotics.

Hazelden has seen its admissions for opioid dependence at its Springbrook residential program in Newberg double over the past decade. In 2004, opioid dependence diagnoses there represented 13.7 percent of the patient population. In 2014, that number rose to near 27 percent.

Downtown Portland’s Outside In’s needle exchange program has also been busier this year.

“We’re doing more needles, seeing more clients,” said program coordinator Haven Wheelock.

In the fiscal year ending June 30, the program distributed 890,000 syringes, 120,000 more than the same period the previous year.

Wheelock has trained 1,043 people in naloxone, which is used to reverse a heroin overdose. Since the training program began two years ago, 708 reversals have been reported to the nonprofit. One study showed that 1 percent of overdoses tend to be fatal, so that is potentially at least seven lives saved.


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