Bills would boost Oregon’s efforts to battle harmful effects of fentanyl
Lawmakers and other public officials testified in support of bills that would boost Oregon’s efforts to battle fentanyl and its harmful effects on families on Monday.
House Committee on Behavioral Health and Health Care members held a public hearing for House Bill 2395, HB 2833, and HB 2451. Rep. Dacia Grayber (D-Tigard) said provisions in HB 2395 would put life-saving tools that preserve brain function and give people a chance at recovery in the hands of more people who can use them.
Rep. Maxine Dexter (D-Portland) listed several initiatives in HB 2395 that would help minimize the risks opioids pose in communities, including decriminalizing the distribution of fentanyl test strips. It would also remove barriers to naloxone availability in publicly accessible buildings, and allow the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) to issue standing prescriptions for “short-acting opioid antagonists,” which would be the preferred nomenclature when discussing naloxone and similar drugs in policy, according to an amendment in HB 2395.
“We will change any reference from ‘naloxone’ in current statute to ‘short-acting opioid antagonist’ because there are drugs in development,” Dexter said. “We want to make sure that the policy is durable and accommodates all new medications in this class.”
HB 2395 would allow first responders to distribute short-acting opioid antagonist kits to any individual who may need or request one, Dexter said.
“This will free up capacity to respond to other emergency situations and hopefully increase access in the community to this life-saving category of medications,” she said. “We will create a fund to bulk purchase opioid reversal medication for distribution to qualifying organizations.”
The bill would allow for cross-county notification when a youth dies as a result of an overdose outside of their home county, Dexter said.
“This will allow for a localized public health response in the decedent’s community,” she said.
The bill would also establish a commission to evaluate existing opioid reporting practices and draft standardized recommendations for statewide improvement. It would allow clinicians to provide confidential substance use disorder treatment to minors under 15 years old if disclosing their desire for treatment is suspected to put the patient at risk of harm. And it would provide protection for school staff from civil and criminal liability should they administer naloxone to students suspected to be suffering from an overdose.
Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum also testified in support of HB 2395. She said the OHA estimates that five Oregonians die every week from opioid-related overdoses. In 2021, 745 Oregonians died from unintentional opioid overdoses, which was up from 472 deaths in 2020.
“As Oregon’s attorney general, I have made fighting the companies who produce, manufacture, or fill these powerful narcotics one of my top priorities,” Rosenblum said. “For over 15 years, Oregon has been actively involved in efforts to hold the opioid industry accountable for its role in fueling the opioid crisis that has so severely impacted our communities.”
In 2022, the Oregon Department of Justice joined eight multi-state settlement agreements with companies that either distributed, produced, or sold opioids, Rosenblum said.
“Oregon is expected to receive $701.5 million from these settlements to fund programs designed for opioid treatment, recovery, and prevention services at both the state and local level,” she said.
Rep. Lily Morgan (R-Grants Pass) testified in support of HB 2833, which would direct the OHA to develop and maintain an electronic system to collect information about the administration of naloxone or other drugs, and deaths resulting from opioid overdose.
“In the first four months of 2022, in Josephine County and Grants Pass, we found overdoses were up 700% and deaths were up 120%,” Morgan said. “We need to know how much naloxone has been used in the community. How often is it being administered by first responders and others? Are we offering enough services based on the need in the community? Nobody’s collecting the data.”
Grants Pass Police Chief Warren Hensman also testified in support of HB 2833.
“We know in law enforcement we cannot arrest our way out of addiction,” Hensman said. “But we must do better with prevention. By having this bill pass, and having the ability to report on overdoses, we will be able to provide awareness to our community as to what exactly is going on from a boots-on-the-ground perspective. We must be able to identify trends in real time so we can collaborate to be more preventative.”
University of Oregon student Meghan Turley testified in support of HB 2451, which would remove prohibitions from the use of testing equipment that analyzes substances for the presence of specified controlled substances.
“Oregon is one of only 19 states where fentanyl testing devices are still criminalized,” Turley said. “Testing can be an important part of harm reduction, but state law is getting in the way.”