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Oregon Gov. Kotek seeks legislation to fight opioid overdoses

Mark Oniffrey
Wikimedia Commons

Patients with a history of opioid use would get increased access to overdose reversal medications under a bill backed by Gov. Tina Kotek and top legislative leaders.

Senate Bill 1043, would require hospitals and types of providers to give patients two doses of opioid overdose reversal medication when they leave the facility if they have a history of opioid use or a prescription to an opioid medication.

The proposal comes as Oregon is in the throes of a deadly opioid addiction crisis. In 2021, 739 Oregonians died from unintentional opioid overdoses, up from 472 deaths in 2020 and 280 deaths in 2019, according to Oregon Health Authority data.

The bill, discussed Monday in the Senate Health Care Committee, is sponsored by Senate President Rob Wagner, D-Lake Oswego.

“We hear every day about individuals who are dying from overdoses across our state,” Kotek told the committee. “And it’s a very painful thing that our families are going through. Too many Oregonians have lost family members and friends.”

The bill would apply to various providers, including those that offer substance use treatment services, hospitals, long-term care facilities, residential care facilities and outpatient clinics. Providers would be required to give a patient two doses of overdose reversal medication for future use when they are released or transferred from the hospital or their patient visit ends.

“It just takes one mistake for someone to lose their life or a family to lose their son or daughter,” Kotek said.

Staff at Fora Health, a Portland-area provider of residential and outpatient addiction treatment, see the danger of opioid overdoses – and the life-saving value of overdose reversal medication.

Maree Wacker, the provider’s chief executive officer, urged lawmakers to support the bill. On Feb. 3, Fora Health staff responded to an overdosed person in their facility and administered naloxone, the medication that reverses overdoses. That week, the provider had just completed training so staff knew how to administer the medication and where to get it.

They administered two doses to the person, who received four more doses at a hospital, Wacker said.

“The young man survived but would not have had he not had access to this life-saving drug,” Wacker said.

The bill is scheduled for a committee vote on March 27. It will need to go to the budget-writing Joint Ways and Means Committee before a vote in the Senate and House. Lawmakers haven’t determined yet what the cost will be.

A separate bill seeks to address the opioid overdose epidemic by making naloxone kits – the medication used to reverse overdoses – more widely available in different settings, including public buildings, schools and for first responders. For example, paramedics, firefighters and police officers could give naloxone kits to drug users or their family members to use for a future probable overdose. Public school employees could administer naloxone to a student during an overdose and have immunity from lawsuits and criminal charges.

House Bill 2395, sponsored by Rep. Maxine Dexter, D-Portland and a physician, has passed the House and is now in the Senate.

Kotek praised that bill and encouraged lawmakers to support it.

The Oregon Capital Chronicle is a professional, nonprofit news organization. We are an affiliate of States Newsroom, a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit supported by grants and a coalition of donors and readers. The Capital Chronicle retains full editorial independence, meaning decisions about news and coverage are made by Oregonians for Oregonians.

Ben Botkin covers justice, health and social services issues for the Oregon Capital Chronicle. Ben Botkin has been a reporter since 2003, when he drove from his Midwest locale to Idaho for his first journalism job. He has written extensively about politics and state agencies in Idaho, Nevada and Oregon.