Opioid Overdoses Increased in 2021

Find more resources at International Overdose Awareness Day

Fentanyl and methamphetamine help fuel rise in deaths and hospitalizations

Methamphetamines and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl helped drive an increase in opioid overdoses and related deaths in 2021, according to a new Oregon Health Authority (OHA) report.

The report, Opioids and the Ongoing Drug Overdose Crisis in Oregon, shows that overdoses involving multiple drugs – known as polysubstance overdoses – also rose during 2021 and now account for more than half of all fatal overdoses. In addition, hospitalizations increased in 2021 following decreases between 2018 and 2020. Charges for drug overdose-related hospitalizations reached $170 million and overdose-related emergency room charges reached $50 million.

“What this report tells us is that, even as prescription opioids were on the decline in Oregon over the last decade, misuse of synthetic and prescription opioids and other drugs continues to take a heavy toll on everyone in our state,” said Tom Jeanne, M.D., M.P.H., deputy health officer and deputy state epidemiologist at OHA’s Public Health Division, who served as an advisor on the report. “We need to continue our efforts focused on enhanced prevention across the continuum of drug use.”

The report also describes those at highest risk for unintentional drug overdose death in 2021, which were non-Hispanic American Indians and Alaska Natives, non-Hispanic Blacks, and males. At lowest risk were people of Hispanic ethnicity and non-Hispanic Asians and Pacific Islanders.

“These are populations that have been unfairly affected by systemic racism, socioeconomic and political injustices and bias, which through multiple pathways can worsen health outcomes and increase the risk of experiencing a drug overdose,” Jeanne said.

The report noted some trends that presented opportunities for intervention with those at risk of overdoses.

For one, emergency medical services (EMS) personnel administered naloxone, a drug that rapidly reverses an opioid overdose, during 5,556 encounters in 2021, which is up from 3,758 encounters in 2019. In most of these cases the patient was transferred to a medical care facility for treatment.

In addition, there were almost 73,000 emergency department visits and more than 17,000 hospitalizations related to substance use disorder or intoxication issues other than an overdose in 2021. Such health care interactions represent opportunities to connect patients to treatment, prescribe naloxone – a medicine that rapidly reverses an opioid overdose – and provide other supports to reduce their risk for experiencing future overdoses, the report explains.

Providing comprehensive, non-stigmatizing harm-reduction services for people who use drugs is among a number of response strategies the report points to. Others include education for people who have never used drugs; resilience building and support to strengthen protective factors among those at higher risk for drug use and for developing substance use disorder; ensuring universal access to culturally sensitive treatment; and maintaining strong support for people in recovery, including peer support workers.

“Each non-fatal overdose and medical or behavioral health care visit has the potential to be a touch point with prevention, treatment and recovery services to support recovery and reduce the risk of a future fatal overdose,” according to the report.

An overdose is always a medical emergency. Individuals should call 911 before administering naloxone. Oregon’s Good Samaritan Law protects the caller and the person who has overdosed against possession and paraphernalia charges.

OHA’s Naloxone Rescue for Opioid Overdose webpage contains naloxone frequently asked questions and a map showing Oregon pharmacies that distribute the medicine. In Oregon, naloxone is available without a prescription. Anyone actively using opioids, or other illicit substances, can get naloxone and other harm-reduction materials at no cost through syringe service programs. Syringe service programs are available to anyone who uses drugs, regardless of whether they inject them. Here is OHA’s list of syringe and needle exchange services available in Oregon (including the Malheur County Health Department).

OHA has developed the following guidance for people who use drugs:

  • Unless a pharmacist directly hands you a prescription pill, assume it is counterfeit and contains fentanyl.
  • Assume any pills obtained from social media, the internet or a friend are counterfeit and contain fentanyl.
  • If you are using pills, don’t use alone and always have naloxone on hand and visible.
  • Test your drugs with fentanyl test strips before you use them. Fentanyl test strips can often be accessed at local harm-reduction sites.

See all OHA News Releases here.

Raising awareness of hope during National Suicide Prevention Month

In recognition of National Suicide Prevention Month and National Suicide Prevention Week (Sept. 4-10, 2022), Oregon Health Authority (OHA) and local partners are continuing efforts to increase awareness of ways everyone can help prevent suicide.

In 2020, Oregon had the 13th highest rate of suicide in the United States, with a total of 833 deaths. Oregon’s suicide rate has stayed well above national rates since 2000. Suicide is also the second leading cause of death among youth aged 5-24.

“Suicide remains a persistent and yet largely preventable cause of death in Oregon,” said Debra Darmata, adult suicide prevention coordinator at OHA. “Every death by suicide in Oregon carries a substantial and long-lasting ripple effect into our communities. We know that suicide prevention is everyone’s business.” 

Oregon is brimming with advocates and champions for suicide prevention, including the Oregon Alliance to Prevent Suicide. Many organizations also have ongoing social media and awareness campaigns to join.

What can you do to help?

Research shows people who are having thoughts of suicide feel relief when someone asks after them in a caring way. Acknowledging and talking about suicide may reduce rather than increase thoughts of suicide. We all have a part to play in reducing stigma and ensuring people have hope, feel safe asking for help, and can get access to community-based support. You can also:

If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental or behavioral health crisis, free help is immediately available.

988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline

The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is available 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, via phone, text and online chat, offering people compassionate care and support from trained crisis counselors for individuals, families or their loved ones. One does not have to be suicidal to call 988 but can reach out when experiencing any behavioral health crisis. 988 call services are available in English and Spanish, along with interpretation services in more than 150 languages. Texting 988 and online chat are currently available only in English. Veterans and military service members can call 988 and press “1” to connect with the Veterans Crisis Line.

Present a Session at Health Equity Conference

The Malheur County Equity Conference is happening Thursday, September 29th, 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. at the Four Rivers Cultural Center. Join us to connect and collaborate to advance community health and equity during a robust day focused on solutions and strengths. Register to attend here.

We need more presenters! We welcome all community partners working to develop health equity to share their approach and foster dialogue by presenting at the Malheur County Health Equity Conference. We encourage interactive sessions, with opportunities for connection, dialogue, and practice. Plan to present for 20-30 minutes and allow for 20-30 minutes of activity with your audience.

Host a session at the Health Equity Conference: Complete this form and submit by Friday, September 16, 2022.

This event is completely community-driven: for our community, by our community, about our community. We need a total of 25 break out sessions about the big and small ways we address health equity in Malheur County. Any organization invested in the health and wellbeing or our residents is encouraged to share about the successes they’ve had, strategies they’ve tried, lessons they’ve learned, and the people they serve. The expectation isn’t that each session is high level, polished, and hyper-professional. We want what is genuine and local! Share your strengths and help others.

Find more information, including registration, flyers, and session application forms, at 4rhc.org/health-equity-conference or on our previous post here.

Questions? Don’t hesitate to contact Sarah Poe at 208-501-5966 or sarah.poe@malheurco.org.

Community Needs Assessment Survey

We need your voice! Complete the 2023 Eastern Oregon & Western Treasure Valley Community Health Needs Assessment survey no later than Friday, September 16th. Your input helps us identify needs, drive strategic planning, and receive funding for services. Our local health systems, public health departments, and community partners are conducting this survey to gain a greater understanding of the issues our community members face. This includes all things that impact health (beyond just access to health care), like things related to where we live, work, and play.

Complete the survey here: https://tinyurl.com/24ntxzwv

Community Conversation on Aging

The Malheur County Health Department is proud to be an event partner for Community Conversation on Aging in Malheur County – Connecting for a Shared Future, coming up Saturday, August 20, 2022, from 1-4 p.m. with a complimentary lunch served at noon and a session in Spanish in Ontario from 5-8 p.m. with complimentary dinner at 5 p.m. Register here. This innovative event will be held in four locations to reach the most people in Malheur County, in their towns.

Join others in Jordan Valley, Ontario, Nyssa, and Vale to:

  • Connect with neighbors and discuss your ideas for how to keep our community a great place to grow up and grow old.
  • Have your voice heard and hear from others about what it’s like to age in the community.
  • Get together with people of all ages to discuss the possibilities available when living a long life.

Registration is simple. Go to:  www.ageplus.org/register or call 541-889-7651 Monday through Friday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Please indicate which meeting location you will join when you register. If you have any questions, please email admin@ageplus.org. Download and share fliers here.

Invest in Yourself with Health is Wealth Program

The Malheur County Health Department (MCHD) has a new incentive program, Health is Wealth, to increase recommended surveillance testing, immunization, and awareness of public health services. People can walk in or call MCHD at 541-889-7279 to schedule time for testing, vaccine, and short informative sessions with staff. Participants will receive a Health is Wealth card that will keep track of their progress through 10 core programs. Upon completion, the first 100 participants will receive a $100 gift card.  

The goal is for people to experience public health as an important part of their healthcare, get to know staff, and connect the people in their lives to available services.

Eligibility: Health is Wealth program participants must be 18 years old or older. Participants must be present to receive services, complete paperwork, and present the completed card to MCHD front desk to receive gift card. The Health is Wealth card must be started by June 30, 2023. One hundred gift cards are available and once that supply is exhausted, there is no guarantee a gift card will be provided.

Requirements: Participants must receive a stamp for each of the 10 programs, from MCHD employees on the Health is Wealth card, within 12 months of the start date on card. Immunizations must be up to date, as verified in the Oregon or Idaho immunization registries. Participants must receive testing for HIV, syphilis, hepatitis C, chlamydia and gonorrhea, or have record of tests within the last 12 months. Participants must schedule and complete short educational sessions with each program to receive a stamp.

The Centers for Disease Control recommends all adults get tested for hepatitis C and that everyone should be tested for HIV at least once in their life, regardless of risk factors. With climbing rates of communicable disease, more testing is needed to identify infections, many of show no symptoms. Hepatitis C is a leading cause of liver cancer, however, with treatment, hepatitis C infection is curable. Early detection can save your life. Cases of HIV, syphilis, and gonorrhea are also going up in Malheur County. Testing can give people peace of mind and more information about their overall health.

Along with increased testing, the Health is Wealth program aims to get more adults up to date on recommended vaccines. Immunizations are not just for children. Protection from some childhood vaccines can wear off over time. You may also be at risk for vaccine-preventable disease due to your age, job, lifestyle, travel, or health conditions. All adults need immunizations to help them prevent getting and spreading serious diseases that could result in poor health, missed work, medical bills, and not being able to care for family.

Public health promotes the wellbeing of the entire population of Malheur County and helps to ensure access to safe and quality care. Public health is for everyone! Visit malheurhealth.org or call 541-889-7279 for more information.

MCHD at the Malheur County Fair

The 2022 Malheur County Fair is happening this week, August 2nd through 6th, with the theme of “Just for the Fun of It!” We are proud to be part of one of the county’s best family-friendly events. Come visit our booth in the Commercial Building all week and be sure to stop by on Friday and Saturday for the special COVID-19 vaccine booth near ours. Vaccines available 11 a.m. – 7 p.m. for ages 6 months and older. $25 gift cards for every dose received. Download the flyer here.

Healthier Oregon: Health Insurance Expanded through OHP

As of July 1, 2022, adults 19-25 and 55 and older are now eligible for full Oregon Health Plan (OHP) benefits and other services and supports, regardless of their immigration status. OHP is free health coverage for people who live in Oregon and who meet income and other criteria. It covers health care services like medical, mental health, dental, prescriptions, tests, x-rays, hospital care, and rides to and from health care appointments. The expansion is the result of House Bill (HB) 3352, which put into law a program called “Cover All People.” The program is now known as “Healthier Oregon.”

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates reports that 12.2% of residents in Malheur County under age 65 are without health insurance, compared to 8.6% in Oregon. With expanded OHP coverage, hopefully more people will have health insurance and receive the health care they need.

Eligibility is open to people who live in Oregon who:

  • Meet income and other criteria,
  • Don’t qualify for full OHP benefits because of their immigration status, and
  • Are 19-25 years old or 55 years and older.

For example, before, a 22-year-old without a qualifying immigration status could only get CWM benefits (also known as emergency Medicaid). As of July 1, 2022, this person is eligible for full OHP benefits. If someone is a lawful permanent resident (LPR), ​​they will not need to wait five years before they are eligible for ​full OHP benefits through Healthier Oregon. ​OHP does not affect immigration status. OHP is not considered public charge.

Lisa is here to help!

For more information visit Oregon.gov/HealthierOregon or call Lisa Almaraz, OHP Application Assister and Health Specialist at the Malheur County Health Department at 541-889-7279 x136 or email lisa.almaraz@malheurco.org.

Download flyers in English and Spanish, or simply click on the images below.

988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline

The new 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline is easy to remember – just like 911 – and offers compassionate care and support for anyone experiencing thoughts of suicide or self-harm, substance use, or any other kind of behavioral health crisis. You can also dial 988 if you’re worried about a loved one who may need crisis support. Available on every landline, cell phone and voice-over-internet device in the United States, call or text 988 or chat 988lifeline.org.

988 offers 24/7 access to trained crisis counselors who can help people experiencing mental health-related distress. That could be:

  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Mental health or substance use crisis, or
  • Any other kind of emotion distress

People can call or text 988 or chat 988lifeline.org for themselves or if they are worried about a loved one who may need crisis support. 988 serves as a universal entry point so that no matter where you live in the United States, you can reach a trained crisis counselor who can help.

Rethink the Drink

How excessive drinking affects people living in Oregon

  • More than 2,000 people die each year from excessive alcohol use, 3 times the number who die from other drug overdoses.
  • Six people die from alcohol-related reasons every day.
  • Excessive alcohol consumption is the No. 3 preventable cause of death (after tobacco use and obesity).
  • More than 1 in 5 people drink excessively.
  • It’s not just a problem for high school and college kids: people in their 30s and 40s binge drink at close to the same rates as younger people.
  • Certain populations experience unjust stressors and disadvantages due to racism and discrimination, which has led to higher rates of alcohol-related harms. These include Black and Indigenous communities, as well as people with lower incomes and less education.

Health harms of excessive drinking

  • Excessive drinking increases the risk for cancer, liver failure, heart disease and depression.
  • Binge drinking increases the risk for high blood pressure and strokes.
  • Excessive drinking contributes to three types of liver disease: fatty liver, alcohol-related hepatitis and cirrhosis.
  • Regular, heavy drinking increases your risk for breast cancer and prostate cancer.
  • Every drink can increase your risk for long-term health problems, like heart disease, cancer and depression.

What we mean by excessive drinking

  • OHA utilizes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) definition of excessive alcohol use. Excessive drinking includes both heavy drinking, and binge drinking.
    • Heavy drinking, the kind that can harm your health long-term, is 15 drinks or more a week for a man. For a woman, it’s 8 drinks
    • Binge drinking is when a man has 5 or more standard drinks in one two-hour occasion. For women, it’s 4 or more drinks
  • What is a standard drink, in terms of Alcohol by Volume (ABV)?
    • 12 fl oz. beer (5% ABV)
    • 5 fl oz. wine (12% ABV)
    • 1.5 fl oz. liquor/hard alcohol (40% ABV)
  • The CDC numbers are different for men and women because their bodies process alcohol differently. However, it’s important to point out that the CDC numbers refer to cisgender males and females. “Cisgender” means that the gender you identify with matches the sex assigned to you at birth. When it comes to gender nonconforming individuals, more research is needed to assess the impact of excessive drinking.
  • It’s also true that for some people, drinking any alcohol is too much. And no matter who you are, drinking less is better for your health than drinking more.

Economic consequences of excessive drinking

  • Excessive drinking costs Oregon $4.8 billion per year from lost earnings for workers and revenue for businesses, health care expenses, criminal justice costs, and car crashes.
  • That’s $1,100 for every person in Oregon, according to a report by ECONorthwest.

Alcohol consumption during the pandemic

  • Many of the stressors of the COVID-19 pandemic – increased isolation, lack of social interaction and contact with social supports, increased uncertainty, increased stress, and increased depression and anxiety – may have contributed to an increase in excessive alcohol use and alcohol-induced deaths.
  • A study by RTI International showed excessive alcohol consumption increased considerably for females, Black respondents, and respondents with children based on their research conducted in 2020.
  • In Oregon, the rate of death directly due to alcohol increased substantially (21%) during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rethink the Drink is grounded in significant research

  • From 2017-2019, OHA conducted an Alcohol Formative Audience Assessment (AFAA)
  • In 2020, OHA conducted focus groups with people living in Oregon to test three creative approaches to a public health campaign
  • In Fall 2021, OHA conducted testing of messaging and draft versions of creative materials (video/audio visuals) with focus groups


  • Rethink the Drink is a new brand from the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) that aims to change the conversation about excessive alcohol drinking and how excessive alcohol use harms communities in Oregon. The statewide campaign will launch in Summer 2022 and include:
    • Website: www.rethinkthedrink.com
    • Statewide TV, radio, online and newspaper advertisements
    • Facebook and Instagram pages
    • Information for county health departments, community-based organizations, and Tribes to localize the campaign for their communities
  • Rethink the Drink Fact Sheet
  • Rethink the Drink FAQ