Oregon’s heroin caused deaths higher than ever

innoculation-herion-drugsOregon State Medical Examiner Dr. Karen Gunson released 2012 drug-related death statistics reflecting a 7 percent drop from last year when total deaths reached their highest level since the beginning of 2000. Despite the drop, a couple counties saw near doubling of drug-related deaths, and heroin-caused deaths were at their highest level ever.

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

Drug-related death statistics released shows the 223 deaths in 2012 were the third highest total – only surpassed in 2011 (240 deaths) and 2008 (229 deaths) – in Oregon from the use of Heroin, Cocaine, Methamphetamine, or a combination use of those drugs. Statewide prescription drug overdose deaths dropped 12 percent from totals noted the previous two years.

A review of the 223 illicit drug-related deaths and their frequency of use in those deaths in 2012 reflected:

  • Heroin was the leading cause with 147 recorded deaths; a 2.5 percent increase over the previous record number (143) recorded in 2011. Sixty-five (65) percent of all drug-related deaths were associated with heroin use.
  • Cocaine-related deaths (19) in 2012 were the lowest recorded since 2000 and a 43 percent drop from last year’s 33 deaths. The highest number of Cocaine-related deaths (69) occurred in 2000. The 19 cocaine-related deaths occurred only in Marion, Multnomah, and Washington counties.
  • Methamphetamine-related deaths (93) dropped 13 percent from last year’s 107 deaths, the highest number since 2000. Methamphetamine was the lone illicit drug noted for deaths in Baker (1), Benton (1), Coos (4), Josephine (1), Klamath (2), Lake (2), Lincoln (2), and Linn (1) counties.
  • Combination of drug use deaths also dropped 16 percent from the previous year. In 2012, there were 33 recorded deaths, the third lowest since 2000.The highest number of deaths in this category occurred in 2008 when there were 46 recorded deaths.

The majority of Oregon counties noted the same or less number of drug-related deaths in 2012 in comparison to 2011. About half of all Oregon drug-related deaths are in Multnomah County. In 2012, there were 103 total deaths in which heroin was noted in 80 percent of those deaths. Other counties with notable changes from 2011 include:

  • Jackson County increased from 9 (2011) to 19 (2012)
  • Marion County increased from 10 (2011) to 19 (2012)
  • Washington County increased from 14 (2011) to 17 (2012)
  • Lane County decreased from 23 (2011) to 15 (2012)
  • Multnomah County deceased from 119 (2011) to 103 (2012)

Counties with illicit drug-related deaths in 2012, after no recorded deaths the previous year, were Harney (1), Hood River (2), Klamath (3), Lake (2), and Tillamook (1).

Despite the drop in total statewide prescription drug overdose deaths for the three major noted categories, Methadone use again topped the list of major drug prescription deaths. In 2012, the 170 total deaths (170) in the three noted categories dropped from 193 in 2011. The three noted prescription drug categories are:

  • Methadone-related deaths dropped over 20 percent from 100 (2011) to 78
  • Hydrocodone (Vicodin)-related deaths dropped from 37 (2011) to 26
  • Oxycodone-related deaths rose from 56 (2011) to 66

Dr. Gunson noted the downward trend of the opioid deaths coincides with the full implementation of the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP) in Oregon. The PDMP is a tool to help healthcare providers and pharmacists provide patients better care in managing their prescriptions. The program was started to support the appropriate use of prescription drugs. The information is intended to help people work with their healthcare providers and pharmacists to determine what medications are best for them.

“I hope this program has an impact on prescription drug deaths in the years to come,” she said.

Note that prescription drug overdose death statistics are statewide and are not included with the information provided on the State Medical Examiner’s website charts.