Ron: “Opioid abuse is hitting Oregon just like a wrecking ball

Ron heard from experts throughout Oregon this week about the epidemic of opioid abuse and addiction, and what measures can be taken to save untold thousands of future potential victims.

Opioid abuse is hitting Oregon just like a wrecking ball,” he said at roundtables and discussions in Medford, Portland and Eugene on opioid addiction and abuse with health care providers, advocates, pharmacists and community leaders.

It has left an enormous path of destruction behind,” Ron said. “And we are going to be dealing with this for years and years.”

Among the troubling numbers:

  • Nearly 19,000 people died nationwide in 2014 from abuse of opioid pain relievers, more deaths than from any other legal or illegal drug.
  • Health care providers wrote an estimated 259 million prescriptions for opioids in 2012, enough for every U.S. adult to have a bottle of pills.
  • Oregon has the dubious distinction of ranking fourth worst in the nation for abuse and misuse of prescription opioids.

At the discussions in Medford, Portland and Eugene, Ron took heart that that the country and Congress appear ready at last to work together -- regardless of party -- on a problem he and other Oregonians have been working on for some time.

And he said there seem to be some reasons for optimism that progress may be ahead.

He cited his recent letter to the CDC offering support for the proposed CDC guidelines on opioid prescribing practices – a key tool to avoid what he called the “prescribing pendulum” swinging between too few pain medications in years past to too many now.

The proposed CDC guidelines would give health care providers more tools and information about when prescribing opioids for chronic pain is appropriate.

He mentioned his request this month to the federal Department of Health and Human Services about several potential conflicts of interest among members of the Interagency Pain Research Coordinating Committee. That committee has criticized the CDC’s efforts to curb opioid abuse and several members appear to have ties to the pharmaceutical industry.

And he also noted that President Obama’s budget includes additional funding to help combat prescription opioid abuse and heroin use.

We’re going to stay at it until Oregon is no longer at the bottom of these statistics,” Ron said, “so that instead of Oregon having one of the highest levels of opioid abuse, it will have one of the lowest.”

As the Ranking Member of the Senate Finance Committee, Ron also will be asking questions at a Feb. 23 committee hearing examining the challenges of the opioid epidemic.