Like Bend First, Deschutes County Health Services is Adapting to the Growing Demands of the Fentanyl Crisis

Like Bend First, Deschutes County Health Services is Adapting to the Growing Demands of the Fentanyl Crisis

(Update: adding video and commentary from first responders and Deschutes County Health)

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) — With four people in Bend reported to have overdosed on fentanyl in just six hours Tuesday — all saved by the first-hand use of Narcan — resources between the agencies involved are increasingly stretched. and more.

The increase in overdoses in Deschutes County has increased in recent years. In 2023, more than 150 fentanyl overdoses were reported in the county, according to Deschutes County Health Services.

Central Oregon has seen a rampant increase in the number of overdoses in the last year. According to the most recent data from Deschutes County Health Services and the Medical Examiner’s office, there were seven suspected fatal overdoses in January, and a total of 11 since December 2023.

Data from 2023 is not available as experts process all the information, so Deschutes County Health Services actively collaborates with the Medical Examiner’s Office and is able to obtain real-time data. According to Jess Neuwirth, Deschutes County Supervisor of the Substance Abuse and Problem Gambling Prevention Program, “in 2022, we saw 25 overdoses in Deschutes County. For context, Portland saw 200. And then statewide we saw almost 1400. So in comparison low for both the region and the state”.

Data from 2022 shows there were 244 people who received care at Deschutes County Emergency Departments. It is important to note that most overdoses do not result in death, however according to Bend Fire and Rescue, the increase in overdoses has limited their resources.

Chief Norris, Deputy EMS Chief, said, “When we see an overdose. Especially two or three at a time. It takes 2 to 3 agencies, 4 to 5 fire trucks. It keeps the rest of the district pretty thin for one and we’re going to have to ask for mutual aid through Redmond, Sun River Sisters for places like that to help come to our district to help cover those emergency calls that come in and that also leaves them vulnerable in their communities.”

He also noted that they are in the infant stages of creating a new program in partnership with Deschutes County Health Services to further prevent overdoses in Deschutes County. The program would mimic a bag of hope, including a vial of Narcan, fentanyl test strips and educational material on opioids and resources to get help. He said the hope is that they would give these to individuals who are heavy users or who have overdosed and are fine but reluctant to visit a hospital. ideally,

Most overdoses are not fatal, according to Deschutes County Health Services, and administering Narcan sooner can be the difference between life and death. Neuwirth commented on this quote: “Take Narcan. It’s small. It’s easy to carry. You can find it at most local pharmacies.”

Bend Police plays a role in preventing overdose deaths in Deschutes County since they began fielding calls in 2016. Sheila Miller, Public Information Officer for Bend Police, said, “The same way we carry a first aid kit first, the same way we carry a tourniquet. Having Narcan on hand allows us to provide that immediate lifesaving care when needed.” Chief Norris also commented saying, “police officers in the city carry a defibrillator and Narcan. So a lot of times they are able to administer Narcan before we arrive,” which can make a difference.

According to first responders and the county, much of the concern about the increasing overdoses has centered around the idea that more common drugs are being discontinued with more dangerous drugs. Chief Norris said, “You think you can take one drug and it’s linked to another, like fentanyl, that’s where we see a lot of these overdoses.” Neuwirth also advised to “assume that every purchase of the substance on the street or online has something else in it.”

It is generally assumed that overdoses only affect those in the homeless community. According to Deschutes County Health, more than half of overdose deaths occur in people with permanent housing, usually because they are taking another drug that happens to be linked to something more dangerous.

While fentanyl and other synthetic opioids represent a growing threat, substance use is not a new issue, and Health Services programs have been connecting and helping community members for years. The Health Services substance use response can be divided into four categories: prevention, harm reduction, treatment and recovery.

  • Primary Prevention: Primary prevention strategies for substance use introduce protective factors during critical periods and environments in a person’s life to mitigate and reduce the risk of individuals engaging in substance use.
  • Harm reduction: Harm reduction measures aim to support people with substance use disorders and mitigate additional harm from addiction.
  • Treatment and Recovery Support: DCHS provides substance use disorder services for children, youth, adults and their families. Expanded services in 2023 using M110 funds to provide additional screening and counseling for adults, as well as youth recovery services.

Deschutes County has established the Deschutes County Overdose Prevention and Response Coordination Team that meets biweekly to expand partnerships, improve data and surveillance from multiple sources, mobilize partners to inform and assist in response to Deschutes County on fatal and non-fatal overdose cases. It also coordinates response activities, directs accurate and consistent messaging, and organizes resource assessment.

As part of this effort, the Overdose Review Board monitors and identifies changes in fatal and nonfatal substance-related overdoses. The Deschutes County Overdose Review Board acts as the operational center for overdose sites.

Call 911 in an emergency. You are protected from drug-related charges through the Good Samaritan Law.

If you or someone you care about is struggling with drug or alcohol use, get help:

Drug and Alcohol Helpline: (800) 923-4357) or Text: ‘Recovery Now’ to 839863. Helpline for individuals and family members seeking crisis intervention, treatment referral and chemical dependency information.

Teen Crisis Line: (877) 968-8491 Text: ‘teen2teen’ to 839863.

A teen crisis and helpline for young people and teens. Teens available to help daily 4:00-10:00 p.m. (after-hours calls answered by crisis line)

Access to other resources and information can be found at

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