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Overall Oregon drug deaths down, but heroin up again

Jun 2, 2013


By The Associated Press

PORTLAND — Heroin deaths in Oregon reached a record high in 2012, according to the state medical examiner, and the victims were younger than in previous years.

Dr. Karen Gunson tells The Oregonian that victims of heroin overdoses were predominantly people in their 20s and that's younger than overdose deaths in past years.

Heroin killed 147 people, a new high, and accounted for 65 percent of the illegal drug deaths.

Overall, numbers of people who died from illegal drugs last year dropped 7 percent compared to 2011. About half of all Oregon drug-related deaths occurred in Multnomah County.

Gunson said, however, the numbers came with a trend among rural residents.

While drug-related deaths in rural counties were lower than in populous Multnomah County, the deaths in rural areas took place in communities near major highways. People may by substituting heroin for more expensive or unavailable drugs, she said.

“We are also seeing a trend — and the police would agree — of people who were addicted to prescription opioids turning to heroin because they can't get their prescriptions filled or can't afford to pay the street price,” Gunson said. “They can get the heroin cheaper, but they don't know how to take it or its potency.”

Oregon saw a decline in prescription drug deaths.

Those are usually related to misuse and abuse of legitimate drugs prescribed by a physician, Gunson said, and the state's prescription drug monitoring program may have played a role in the decline.

The 223 killed by illegal drug were the third highest total ever in the state. There were 240 deaths in 2011 and 229 in 2008.

Jackson County increased from nine heroin deaths in 2011 to 19 last year while Marion County rose from 10 deaths in 2011 to 19 last year.

Death by cocaine was down, with 33 deaths in 2011 and 19 deaths last year.

Methamphetamine deaths decreased from 107 in 2011 to 93 in 2012. Meth overdoses were blamed for all drug deaths in eight mostly rural counties.

“There is nothing to celebrate in these numbers because these are real people needlessly dying from the abuse of illicit drugs and prescription medications,” Gunson said.

The state counted 170 deaths from prescription drugs, including 78 connected to methadone, down from 100 in 2011.

Hydrocodone deaths also dropped from 37 to 26. Oxycodone deaths increased from 56 in 2011 to 66.

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Information from: The Oregonian, http://www.oregonlive.com

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