SEASIDE, Oregon — Today, Columbia Pacific CCO announced a $120,000 grant to support life-saving harm reduction programs in the three counties we serve – with $70,000 going to Clatsop County to support ongoing operations of its harm reduction program, and Columbia and Tillamook counties each receiving $25,000 for newly launched programs to mitigate the impacts of substance use.
Funding comes at a critical time, with drug overdose deaths in Oregon rising at an alarming rate. In the first six months of 2020, which coincided with the start of the pandemic, Oregon saw a nearly 40 percent increase in overdose deaths (compared to the same period in 2019), according to the Oregon Health Authority (OHA).
“Research shows that harm reduction programs support people as they walk their path toward recovery and treatment, often serving as the first touch point connecting individuals struggling with substance use with a community of caring health care providers,” said Melissa Brewster, PharmD, Senior Pharmacy Clinical Coordinator at CareOregon.
Since its inception in 2018, Clatsop’s harm reduction program has exchanged roughly 1.5 million syringes and distributed thousands of doses of naloxone (or Narcan), a fast-acting remedy for opioid overdose. This year alone, Narcan doses distributed by the program have saved more than 130 lives, according to the county.
“Our program creates a stigma-free and judgement-free environment for a population that doesn’t get to experience that very often,” said Jenna King, Harm Reduction Coordinator for the Clatsop County Public Health Department. “It’s a jumping-off point for them to increase their sense of wellbeing and take care of their health and maybe down the road seek out intervention for their drug use.”
In April of this year, Tillamook and Columbia counties started their harm reduction programs with temporary staffing support and training from Clatsop County. These programs play a critical role in our region’s response to the national opioid crisis. In a relatively short period, they’ve helped to reduce the rate of drug overdoses and curb the spread of infectious diseases associated with drug use, such as hepatitis C and HIV.
The harm reduction model aims to meet people who use drugs “where they are at” and address conditions of use, along with the use itself. People who attend community-based, harm-reduction events can exchange used syringes for sterile ones (on a one-for-one basis) and get life-saving medications like Narcan. They can also get containers for safe disposal of used syringes (sharps containers), wound care education and supplies and resource referrals, including infectious disease care and substance use treatment.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), new users of syringe-exchange programs are five times as likely to enter drug treatment as those who don’t use the programs. People who inject drugs and who have used a syringe-exchange program regularly are nearly three times as likely to report a reduction in injection frequency as those who have never used a program, the CDC reports.
Harm reduction programs not only save lives but also help hold down health care costs. In 2020, Columbia Pacific spent nearly $1.8 million to cover costs associated with treating sepsis (a life-threatening complication of an infection) and hospital admissions for overdoses. We also spent $3 million to cover medications used to treat hepatitis C and HIV. Preventing just one case per month of hepatitis C, HIV or an overdose-related hospital admission would pay for the cost of our recently approved grant funding.
Over the years, Columbia Pacific has provided grant funds, as well as staff leadership, to address substance use in our region, with a special focus on opioid use. With our newly approved grant, we’re continuing to support Clatsop’s harm reduction program and providing our first funding for the newer programs in Columbia and Tillamook.
About Columbia Pacific CCO
Columbia Pacific CCO is proud to serve all Oregon Health Plan members living in Clatsop, Columbia and Tillamook counties. As a nonprofit coordinated care organization (CCO), we provide physical, dental and mental health care through a growing network of health care providers. Our priorities are guided by our local board of directors, community advisory councils and clinical advisory panel, and are informed by extensive community engagement. Columbia Pacific is committed to promoting the health of all those in our region. We especially focus on increasing access to language services, offering treatment for those experiencing substance use disorders and fostering connections that promote social health. Columbia Pacific, part of the CareOregon family of companies, has offices in Seaside.
For more than 25 years, CareOregon has offered health services and community benefit programs to Oregon Health Plan members. Today, we support the needs of more than 500,000 Oregonians through three coordinated care organizations, a Medicare Advantage plan, a Tribal Care Coordination program, a dental care organization, and in-home medical care with Housecall Providers. CareOregon members have access to integrated physical, dental and mental health care, and substance use treatment. We believe that good health requires more than clinics and hospitals, so we also connect members to housing, fresh food, education and transportation services. CareOregon is a mission-driven, community-based nonprofit with offices in Portland, Medford and Seaside, Oregon.