U.S. Rep., Greg Walden found out that rural areas are suffering as much as big cities from the opioid crisis after he made a one-hour whistle stop in Wallowa County last week.
He met with Winding Waters Community Health Center, the Enterprise Police Department and Wallowa County Sheriff’s Office to learn how the agencies team to combat the opioid crisis in eastern Oregon. The Sept. 19 event took place at the county’s justice center in Enterprise.
After Walden introduced himself, the group discussed the drug dispensary kiosk located inside the lobby of the justice center. The kiosk allows anyone to safely dispose of unwanted prescription medication. The items are then shipped to the Drug Enforcement Administration for proper disposal in an incinerator.
“It’s probably the single biggest thing Winding Waters and we ever did, was to put that thing (the kiosk) out there,” Wallowa County Sheriff Steve Rogers said.
“That’s great to know,” Walden replied.
Walden’s jaw dropped as EPD officer George Kohlhepp brought in and stacked bag after bag of discarded medication onto the conference room table. Rogers told everyone that the bags contain a variety of prescriptions but most are opioids.
The DEA receives shipments from the county approximately every six months.
“The last time we shipped, I had one jail cell clear full,” Rogers said.
“A jail cell?” Walden asked, incredulous.
Kohlhepp explained that among other drugs, he finds copious amounts of hydrocodone and fentanyl. Because of the presence of fentanyl, which can be hazardous to touch and also a component of other drugs, law enforcement officers no longer perform field tests.
Also on the agenda was a discussion of Narcan, a nasal spray used on those who have overdosed on opioids. Narcan blocks opioid receptors in the brain, thereby reversing the overdose.
Rogers said the county had only suffered one known opioid overdose while Dr. Liz Powers of Winding Waters said she had been on call when a person was admitted experiencing an overdose and would have perished without medical attention.
“I would say that EMS uses it very frequently,” Powers said. Two of the county’s schools have a supply of Narcan in case of a drug overdose, as well.
As officer Kohlhepp told of the difficulties in stemming the flow of drugs into the county, Dr. Powers assured him that all the county’s law enforcement had made a significant dent in the supply. She told a story about a patient undergoing withdrawals who came into the hospital emergency room at 2 a.m.
“He said, ‘I’m here because I can’t find drugs anywhere in Wallowa County,’” she related.
The rest of the hour-long meeting featured exchanges between the congressman and the other participants regarding various methods law enforcement uses to combat drug crime and the clinic’s part in dealing with drug abuse from a health care perspective.
Nic Powers, Winding Waters’ chief executive officer, said that he appreciated the opportunity to share what the clinic is doing to fight drug abuse. “I was really pleased that our politicians on a national level can see how much this community cares about health and wellness, and how hard we’re all working to improve our community health,” he said.
Rogers said he appreciated the opportunity to share his perspective with the congressman.
“I think it’s a pretty telling and positive thing that a U.S. representative wants to show up in a county this small to see what we’re doing,” he said. “You could see from the amount of drugs on the table that it’s a problem.”