Alcohol and drug addiction – deaths soar during the pandemic
Portland, OR—New 2020 data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, reveals:
Oregon now ranks 2nd in the country for substance use disorder—up from 4th in 2019—with 18.22% of the population suffering from addiction to alcohol and/or drugs. That’s nearly 1 in 5 Oregonians.
Oregon fell to 50th in access to treatment, with 18.08% of Oregonians needing but not receiving treatment.
Alcohol is by far Oregon’s biggest addiction problem, with a whopping 12.43% or about 420,000 Oregonians suffering from alcohol use disorder. Oregon ranks 5th nationally in alcohol addiction.
Oregon ranks 1st in prescription opioid misuse (4.46%, or 150,000 Oregonians), a 2% decrease from 2019.
Oregon ranks 1st in methamphetamine use (1.93%, or 65,000 Oregonians), a 53% or 23,000-person increase from 2019.
Additionally, the state’s Chief Medical Examiner, Sean Hurst, recently testified (1:19:30) to the Oregon Legislature that between 2019 and 2020:
Alcohol-related deaths in Oregon increased 73%.
Drug overdoses were up 39%.
Preliminary 2021 data (the first six months) suggest that addiction-related deaths in the second year of the pandemic will outpace the first year.
Prior to the pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that six Oregonians die each day from alcohol-related causes, and the Oregon Health Authority estimated there were one to two fatal drug overdoses each day.
“I felt sick when I saw these numbers, because behind every number is a name—somebody’s son or sister or husband,” said Mike Marshall, executive director of Oregon Recovers. “It’s extra painful because virtually all of these deaths were preventable. It’s been four years since the Governor declared addiction a public health crisis, and two years since the Alcohol & Drug Policy Commission delivered to her a strategic plan to fix it. But Governor Brown continues to ignore our addiction crisis and has taken no action to implement the plan. We can’t allow more inaction to keep taking Oregon in the wrong direction. We need to fully fund the addiction recovery strategic plan now.”
At the direction of state lawmakers, the Alcohol & Drug Policy Commission (ADPC) consulted more than 150 stakeholders over two years to develop the addiction recovery strategic plan—a comprehensive continuum of addiction services to match the scale and urgency of Oregon’s addiction crisis. Though the plan was completed in 2020, the Governor has made no move to fund its implementation.
Many Oregonians and lawmakers believe that Measure 110 funding will help address the addiction crisis by expanding access to treatment. But Measure 110 funding cannot be used for prevention, nor will it fund any new treatment beds. Instead, funding is limited to use for referrals to treatment (which often just put people on already long waitlists), critically needed harm reduction, and other important recovery supports—but will not reduce addiction rates nor increase access to traditional treatment.
In addition to the new state data, nationally, doctors are reporting “astronomical,” “off the charts” increases in alcohol-related liver disease—cases are up 30% since the pandemic began. And previous research shows that on top of the human toll, excessive alcohol consumption cost Oregon taxpayers $4.8 billion in 2019. Each alcoholic drink sold in Oregon costs $2.08 in criminal justice, healthcare, lost work productivity, and social service costs.
Help can be found on the Oregon Recovers website oregonrecoverynetwork.org or by calling SAMHSA’s National Helpline 1-800-662-HELP (4357).