Family members, Sheriffs, DAs & Multnomah, Washington, Clackamas Cos Announce Path to Combat Opioids

Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington Counties -- County Commissioners, Sheriffs and District Attorneys from across the Portland Metro region are meeting today for a first-in-the-nation Tri-County Summit on Opioids and Addiction. More than 200 health, law enforcement officials and citizens are joining families and people in recovery at the Summit. It is considered one of the largest, and most innovative attempts to chart a regional course to respond to the opioid crisis.

Elected officials are identifying pilot programs, success stories and what concrete steps they could take as county officials, including:

  • Strengthening collaboration between law enforcement and behavioral health providers in their joint efforts.

  • Improving connections to treatment with an expanded focus on using emergency rooms as an opportunity to connect someone in a crisis to recovery services.

  • Helping someone in recovery be more successful through targeted housing, employment and peer support strategies.

“We can save lives and spare families the havoc of addiction if we build solutions across the region – not just around opioids, but around all substance abuse,” Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury said.

Washington County Sheriff Pat Garrett said, “We know from our work every day that no one is immune from the destructive and deadly effects that come with opioid addiction. All of us are committed to collaboratively working to find solutions that save lives. The Opioid Summit is a great opportunity to further our work to that end.”

“This is the health crisis for our generation. It involves law enforcement, of course, but it really involves all of us,” said John S. Foote, District Attorney for Clackamas County.

An opioid overdose takes the life of someone in the Portland Metro region every other day – with 183 deaths in Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington Counties in 2017. And the number of overdose deaths is climbing again, after a period of decline – largely due to a surge in deaths from extraordinarily potent synthetic fentanyl. Use of fentanyl is rising, and 47 people died from an overdose in the region last year, up from 15 deaths in 2016.

The deaths are just the tip of the iceberg. Opioid addiction wreaks havoc within families and communities, and on businesses, and imposes significant costs on the health system, with taxpayers footing the bill. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that for each overdose death, there are over 115 people who abuse or are dependent on opioids – with $4.35 million in health system costs alone. That translates to over 21,000 people in the Portland Metro area who abuse and/or are dependent on opioids – with health system costs of over $796 million each year in Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington Counties

“Counties can, and must, play a critical role in developing effective solutions to the opioid crisis,” said Dr. Paul Lewis, the Tri County Health Officer.

“Counties control key levers in fixing the crisis – from the jails where thousands of people suffering addiction pass through each year, to treatment programs, to emergency rooms, funded in no small part by public funds through the Oregon Health Plan,’’ Lewis said. “The bottom line is we hold the keys to unlocking this problem,”

Dwight Holton, chief executive officer for Lines for Life, a nonprofit dedicated to preventing substance abuse and suicide and also serving as the event’s host, said: “A few years ago, we lost someone to opioid overdose in the U.S. about every 20 minutes. Now we lose someone about every 12 minutes. We need to make this stop now.”

Holton hosted the first-ever Statewide Opioid Conference back in 2010 when he served as United States Attorney, and he praised local leaders for collaborating for solutions:

“The County is where we’ll find meaningful solutions for the opioid epidemic, and I appreciate the Commissioners, Sheriffs and District Attorneys for devoting their time, brainpower and resources to finding solutions.”

The Summit Agenda includes three Policy Sessions built on growing existing solutions to the opioid crisis and exploring new opportunities for change.

The Policy Sessions focus on the connection between Behavioral Health and Public Safety, opportunities for Connections to Treatment, and Making Recovery Successful.  The Policy Sessions include presentations and discussions with leading experts in the fields of addiction recovery, health systems, and law enforcement efforts to address the opioid crisis. Each Policy Session also includes a Call to Action from a person with lived experience dealing with the consequences of addiction. A full agenda is attached.


Julie Sullivan-Springhetti (pronouns her/she/hers)
Communications Director
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