PORT ANGELES — Newly released data shows Clallam County’s heroin and opioid epidemic affects people of all ages across the entire county.
That was the biggest surprise to Dr. Chris Frank, Clallam County health officer, as he reviewed data compiled from the first year of mandatory overdose reporting.
“It isn’t just people in Forks or Port Angeles; it really is spread across the whole county, both genders and all age groups,” he said Wednesday after he had presented information to the county Board of Health on Tuesday.
Last year, the county documented 62 opioid overdoses and at least six deaths.
That is just one figure out of the statistics that the Clallam County Department of Health and Human Services will use to gauge its effectiveness in fighting the epidemic, Frank said.
The county has been documented as above the state average in opioid hospitalizations.
The data was compiled as part of a three-county effort, including Clallam, Jefferson and Kitsap, led by the Olympic Community of Health (OCH), to fight opioid addiction, Frank said.
OCH is developing an opioid response plan for the three counties, which will be funded with Medicaid money from the state, he said.
Frank said this data will set a baseline that will let officials know if programs are making a difference.
The data looks at opioid overdoses, deaths and opioid-related inpatient hospitalizations.
It shows that of those who overdosed in 2016, 68 percent were male and 35 percent were between the ages of 18 and 29.
Last year, 63 percent of overdoses were in Port Angeles, 19 percent on the West End and 13 percent in Sequim.
That data, which is split into quarters, shows the number of overdoses decreasing from 20 in the first quarter of 2016 to 11 in the fourth quarter.
But with only a year of data, Frank said, it’s too early to draw any conclusions in that trend.
“We hope it’s the start of a trend, but I think it’s still too early to say,” he said, adding there might be seasonality to overdose trends or other factors.
Overdoses are reported from emergency rooms at Olympic Medical Center and Forks Community Hospital within 24 hours of their occurrence.
When an overdose involves prescription painkillers, health department staff contact the prescriber so they can assess the safety of that patient’s current treatment plan, Frank said.
Because of how opioid-related deaths are recorded, Frank is unsure of how many opioid-related deaths were actually caused by overdoses.
Since 2010, the number of recorded opioid-related deaths ranges from seven up to 14, with about 10.5 deaths per year.
In 2014, there were 292 opioid-associated hospitalizations per 100,000 people in Clallam County, 84 more than the state average. The death rate was at 13.4 per 100,000 people, while the state average was eight. Neighboring Jefferson County had an opioid death rate of 9.7 per 100,000 in 2013.
Frank said Clallam County is the first in the state to have such a comprehensive collection of overdose data.
Clallam County was the first to have mandatory reporting of overdoses, starting in 2016. Jefferson County, which has a lower overdose rate, was second but has not yet undergone a full year of collecting statistics.
Clallam County began distributing naloxone, which counteracts opioid overdoses, in July 2015. It is likely some overdoses that are reversed by using naloxone aren’t reported to the county, Frank said.
Naloxone was used to counteract 8 percent of reported overdoses.
With timely reporting of overdoses, county officials can step in at a time when people are more susceptible to change, Frank said.
“When we identify overdose victims, we can connect them with services,” he said.
People are pointed to the syringe exchange program and told that naloxone is available.
That outreach is supported by a grant from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to the state Department of Health.
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.