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State Medical Examiner Releases 2009 Drug-Related Death Statistics
Karen Gunson, M.D.
Oregon State Medical Examiner
(971) 673-8200

Oregon State Medical Examiner Dr. Karen Gunson released 2009 drug-related death statistics Monday showing a 7 percent drop from last year's number. The statistics did show an increase in heroin-related deaths, the highest since 2000, and drops in deaths contributed to cocaine, methamphetamine, and combination of drug use.
"Any feelings of encouragement by the seven percent drop from last year are tempered by the fact that we still matched the second highest number since 1999. The reality is that these are real people, nearly 2500 since 1998, whose lives were cut short because of drug use," said Gunson.
State Medical Examiner statistics released today indicates 213 people died in Oregon last year from the use of Heroin, Cocaine, Methamphetamine, or a combination use of those drugs. After rising two years ago to the highest level since 1999, last year's number matched 2006 drug-related deaths which was the second highest level over the last ten years.
A look at the 213 illicit drug-related deaths and the frequency of use in the total number of these deaths reflected:
  • Heroin use was the highest number with 127 deaths, an increase from 119 deaths in 2008 and the highest since 2000.
  • Methamphetamine use was the second highest with 87 deaths; nearly 20 percent drop from 106 deaths recorded in 2008 but still the third highest number since 1998.
  • Cocaine use was related to 32 deaths, nearly half the number of these drug-related deaths in 2006 (64) and the fewest number recorded since 1998.
  • Combination of drug use was related to 35 deaths, over 20 percent less than last year when there were 46 recorded deaths.
Counties that showed increases in total drug-related deaths in comparison to 2008 included:
  • Clackamas County increased from 9 (2008) to 15 (2009)
  • Lane County increased from 21 (2008) to 33 (2009)
  • Washington County increased from 12 (2008) to 15 (2009)
  • Polk County had 3 drug-related deaths, all from heroin use, after none in 2008
Counties that showed decreases included:
  • Multnomah County decreased from 106 (2008) to 94 (2009)
  • Marion County decreased from 22 (2008) to 13 (2009)
  • Deschutes County decreased from 6 (2008) to 2 (2009)
  • Josephine County decreased from 7 (2008) to 4 (2009)
Information for all counties with at least one drug-relate death and a comparison of drug-related death categories during the last ten years is available through the link provided with this release.
The State Medical Examiner's 2009 statistical review is available on the agency's website at:
The purpose of the Medical Examiner Division is to provide direction and support to the state death investigation program. The Medical Examiner manages all aspects of the state medical examiner program and has responsibility for technical supervision of county offices in each of the 36 counties of Oregon. The division is staffed by four full-time forensic pathologists, supported by four staff personnel located in the Portland Metropolitan area. Further administrative support and oversight are provided by the Department of Oregon State Police. The main activity of the division is to certify the cause and manner of a death requiring investigation within the authority of ORS Chapter 146. This activity includes post mortem examination and alcohol and drug analyses. The division also maintains appropriate records and provides lectures and training on legal medicine and death investigation to medical school physicians and students, attorneys, law students, police officers, emergency medical technicians, and other persons associated with the death investigation system.