Local experts from Regence, Oregon Health Authority discuss intersection of the opioid epidemic and COVID-19 in KATU-TV virtual town hall

By Regence
September 30, 2020
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Oregon has one of the highest rates of opioid misuse in the nation. An average of five Oregonians die every week from an opioid overdose, the Oregon Health Authority reports – a troubling statistic that has the potential to rise due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Local experts gathered virtually Tuesday to discuss the opioid epidemic’s impact on Oregon communities as part of KATU-TV’s Recover Northwest Town Hall series.

The event, which was broadcast on KATU and livestreamed on Facebook and Twitter, brought together expert panelists, guests and community members for a conversation about the unique challenges individuals in recovery face amid a global pandemic.

“COVID has exacerbated longstanding societal issues,” cautioned Dr. John McIlveen, Operations and Policy Analyst with the Oregon Health Authority and a panelist at the virtual event. “When it comes to addiction and recovery, stigma and discrimination toward folks in recovery needs to be addressed.”

Dr. McIIveen was joined by Tony Vezina, co-founder and current Executive Director of The 4th Dimension Recovery Center (4D), and Dr. Jim Polo, Executive Medical Director of Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Oregon.

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KATU host Steve Dunn was joined by town hall panelists Tony Vezina, Dr. Jim Polo and Dr. John McIlveen (pictured left to right)

Vezina said that while COVID-19 safety measures prompted an influx of virtual solutions for people in recovery, lack of public communication resulted in initially low adoption rates.

“Accessibility changed overnight and lots of people were left unaware of how to access services,” Vezina said.

To address this concern, The 4th Dimension Recovery Center (4D), directly engaged individuals in recovery to ensure they knew services, like recovery meetings, mentoring and drop-in support were still available.

Town hall panelists also discussed the important role providers play in addressing the opioid epidemic. Dr. Polo urged doctors to consider alternative therapies, like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and limiting prescription doses to just a few days.

Through an effort to decrease opioid misuse while supporting appropriate use for people who need opioids to manage pain, Regence has experienced a reduction in opioid prescriptions by 50 percent since 2014.

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Dr. Jim Polo discussed steps doctors can take to address the opioid epidemic in Oregon during Tuesday’s town hall

This town hall was part of KATU’s Recover Northwest campaign, supported by Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Oregon, which aims to bring awareness to the opioid epidemic in Oregon and solutions to address it. Watch the town hall on KATU.com or on Facebook.  

Visit the Recover Northwest page on KATU.com or tune in every Tuesday and Thursday at 4 p.m. to discover the latest on what is being done to address the opioid epidemic, here in Oregon.