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State Medical Examiner Reports Drug-Related Deaths Increasing
04/01/2009
Karen Gunson, M.D.
Oregon State Medical Examiner
Office: (971) 673-8200

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Oregon State Medical Examiner Dr. Karen Gunson released drug-related death statistics for 2008 reflecting a continuing rise since 1999. The statistics showed a huge jump in methamphetamine-related deaths, an increase in heroin-related deaths, and a slight drop in cocaine-related deaths.
 
"Methamphetamine-related deaths skyrocketed last year, more than doubling what was seen seven years ago and it is the obvious reason why there was such a large overall increase" said Dr. Gunson. "Beyond what was noted in last year's statistics, a review of other drug deaths is now revealing prescription drug overdoes outnumbered illicit drug deaths in some cases."
 
Statistics released by the State Medical Examiner indicate 229 people died in Oregon last year from the use of Heroin, Cocaine, Methamphetamine, or a combination of those drugs. Following a significant drop in 2001, last year's number was an 8 percent increase over 2007 when there were 212 drug-related deaths.
 
Prescription drug overdoses from methadone use was noted in 131 deaths, and another 39 people died from oxycodone overdose. "Most of the methadone overdoses occurred in chronic pain patients or those people who obtained the drug illegally, rather than those involved in addiction treatment programs," said Gunson.
 
A closer look at the 229 illicit drug-related deaths and the frequency of use in the total number of these deaths reflected:
  • Methamphetamine use was related to 106 deaths; clearly reaching the highest level reflected in available statistics since 1996 and a 45 percent jump over the 73 deaths reported in 2007.
  • Heroin use was related to 119 deaths, a slight increase over 118 deaths in 2007 but still the highest number since 2000 in this category.
  • Cocaine use was related to 51 deaths, a slight drop over 62 deaths in 2007 and the second lowest in this category since 2000.
  • Combination of drug use was related to 46 deaths, up from 40 deaths in 2007 and the third highest in this category since 1996.
 
Some counties that showed decreases in total drug-related deaths in comparison to 2007 statistics include:
  • Clackamas County drug-related deaths decreased from 16 (2007) to 9 (2008)
  • Jackson County drug-related deaths decreased from 13 (2007) to 7 (2008)
  • Lane County drug-related deaths decreased from 26 (2007) to 21 (2008)
  • Multnomah County drug-related deaths decreased slightly from 111 (2007) to 106 (2008). It should be noted that drops were seen in Heroin and Cocaine categories but obvious increases in Methamphetamine and Combination Use categories.
 
Some counties that showed increases in total drug-related deaths in comparison to 2007 statistics include:
  • Deschutes County drug-related deaths increased from 2 (2007) to 6 (2008)
  • Josephine County drug-related deaths increased from 4 (2007) to 7 (2008)
  • Marion County drug-related deaths increased from 15 (2007) to 22 (2008)
 
Washington County statistics were about the same with 12 reported deaths in 2008 following eleven reported in 2007. Information for all counties that had at least one drug-related death is available in the 2008 report.
 
Comparison of drug-related death categories between 1996 and 2008 is available through the link provided with this release. The State Medical Examiner's 2008 statistical review is available on the agency's website at:
http://www.oregon.gov/OSP/SME/docs/Drug_Related_Death_Report_2008.pdf.