Multnomah Co. tracking opioid overdoses in real time to get hand - KPTV - FOX 12

Multnomah Co. tracking opioid overdoses in real time to get handle on the problem

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The opioid crisis is now considered a national public health emergency. In Multnomah County, health officials say the scope of this crisis is far reaching.

County officials tell FOX 12 they're now tracking opioid overdoses in real time to get a better handle on the problem. 

Unity Center for Behavioral Health in north Portland provides 24-hour psychiatric care and support services for people experiencing a mental health crisis. A crisis, doctors say, that's often closely connected to some type of addiction.

"We have a high percentage of patients that show up here with substance abuse disorders, addiction and mental health issues together," said VP for Unity Center for Behavioral Health Dr. Chris Farentinos. "That's about 70 percent of patients."

It's a problem Dr. Chris Farentinos believes stems from years of area doctors over-prescribing opioids.

That's why at Unity, staff uses the same electronic medical records system as Legacy, OHSU, Kaiser and Providence, to cross reference information and understand if a person may be abusing the system.

Patients, that range from teens to seniors.

"Sometimes people come in and say they're in pain and they need more medication and we have to check and say, 'that's not the best thing for you,'" said Farentinos. "That happens daily."

A 2015 Multnomah County Health report shows across the Tri-County region, 159 people died from opioid overdoes. Two thirds of those deaths occurred in Multnomah county.

While those deaths have declined from a peak in 2011, the county believes progress in preventing fatal overdoes has slowed.

As of January 2017, the reports claims Oregon leads the country in opioid related hospital stays, with an increase of 88.9 percent.

"This is a long standing deeply rooted problem," said Multnomah County Health Officer Dr. Paul Lewis. "There's 10 to 20 years of people overprescribing opioids to patients and the consequences of that will be felt for just as long going forward."

Lewis is dealing with the crisis on the front lines. A crisis, he says that is worsening with the rise of counterfeit pills.

"Now if you don't get a prescription from the pharmacy it could be fatal," said Lewis. "In the last 12 months, both from deaths and what police are seizing, it's not a white powder, it's a counterfeit pill.  It looks exactly like a prescription opiate, but it's a mixture of things including Fentanyl."

Fentanyl, is an opioid said to be 100 times stronger than other drugs like heroin and morphine.

"True versions of Fentanyl are not meant for humans, they're too dangerous," said Lewis.

All of this is now prompting the county to track opioid overdoses in real time. Data will be updated weekly and currently includes 911 opioid overdose responses, ER visits and fatal overdoses. 

"Looking backwards, we do see the highest week of the year was mid to late July and we've been watching it very closely," said Lewis.

Lewis said public health officials are particularly concerned with statistics related to Fentanyl.

"We just started seeing Fentanyl deaths here in the Portland metro area. The purpose of new weekly system is to get a handle on it as soon as possible if we do see an increase."

In the meantime, Unity is dedicating its resources to providing a safe environment for patients to manage addictions. Staff offers crisis counseling, peer specialists and support after a patient leaves.

"We've been successful here at Unity at connecting individuals to care after they finish their course of treatment with us," said Farentinos. "89 percent of the individuals that leave our care actually attend their first appointment after they leave."

Progress Farentinos is encouraged by, though she knows there's much more work to be done. 

"I can tell you from where I sit, I think part of the solution would be more access to dual diagnosis treatment programs. There's somewhat of an artificial division between addiction and mental health. I think that is a gap in our treatment modality."

Anyone who is battling an opioid addiction, or knows someone who is and needs help visit:

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