Lawmakers push for greater availability of naloxone in Oregon


Shane Ersland


Oregon lawmakers pushed for greater availability of naloxone during a Senate Interim Committee on Health Care meeting on Thursday.


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Drug overdose deaths are a growing concern in the state, particularly those tied to fentanyl use. Illicit fentanyl and methamphetamine were the top drugs reported for overdose deaths in the state during 2019-20. There was a 306% increase in fentanyl-related overdose deaths in 2020 compared to 2019. Methamphetamine-related deaths increased by 131% during that time.

Fentanyl is an opioid, and naloxone rapidly reverses the effects of an opioid overdose. Rep. Maxine Dexter (D-Portland) said naloxone is easy and safe to use, but it is not as widely available in Oregon as it should be. 

“My hope is that we can create broad public awareness about opioid overdoses,” Dexter said. “If we create a shared understanding about how easy it is to save a life, I believe many people would be willing to do just that. We are all on the front lines of addressing this public health crisis.”

Haven Wheelock is the Injecting Drug Use Health Services Program Coordinator at Outside In, a health clinic in Portland. She said the high cost of naloxonewhich has an average retail price of nearly $112 for 4 milligrams, according to GoodRx—plays a significant role in the drug’s frequent unavailability.

“We need to figure out how we’re going to pay for it,” Wheelock said. “It needs to be budgeted. If we aren’t willing to fund harm reduction services, we are saying it’s okay for people to die until we change our systems. We need to scale up and give naloxone to anyone who wants it.”

Wheelock also recommended greater access to fentanyl stripswhich can identify the presence of fentanyl in unregulated drugsand the creation of overdose prevention spaces, where residents can use drugs under the supervision of trained health care professionals who can treat overdoses.

“Overdoses are easy to reverse if there’s someone there to do it,” Wheelock said. “Giving people a place to use drugs will save lives. This is legislation we should be considering if we want to make a difference.”

Rep. Dacia Grayber (D-Tigard) is a firefighter. She discussed situations in which she had to administer naloxone. She said the drug has been used more significantly as fentanyl use has become more prevalent.

“When I was first in the field giving Narcan, it was mostly for oxycontin,” Grayber said. “It wasn’t at the level it is now. We are seeing polypharmacy overdoses and are needing to use more than what we used to use. In some recent cases I’ve seen in rural Washington County, we use all of it in the fire truck just to give someone a pulse. Every law enforcement officer I work with is great at getting on the scene and administering Narcan and that has been a life-saver. We have to come at this from all angles.”

Sen. Deb Patterson (D-Salem) asked about training practices that might be necessary for using naloxone. Wheelock said training would be relatively simple.

“Narcan is really easy to use,” Wheelock said. “It’s a nasal spray. You put it in their nose and push the button.”

Patterson said she would look forward to considering proposed legislation associated with the concerns discussed in the meeting in the future.