Oregon experts discuss substance use and its impacts on youth

By Regence
December 07, 2023
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Main image: Panelists getting ready for town hall conversation

Regence recently gathered with substance use disorder and behavioral health experts across Oregon for a KATU town hall to shed light on the state of community drug use. The group discussed everything from resources to warning signs to what schools are doing to help educate youth about drugs.

Panelists included Regence’s Executive Medical Director of Behavioral Health Dr. Mike Franz as well as parents, representatives of the Beaverton School District, recovery high schools, nonprofit leaders, and state and elected officials.

Substance use disorder affects thousands of Oregonians each year. In fact, Oregon has the second-highest untreated addiction rate in the country, according to Oregon Recovers. When it comes to providing access to treatment, Oregon ranks 50th.

The discussion focused on local youth and the importance of having conversations about drug use sooner rather than later.

“I want to let parents know that what you can do is talk to your kids. I think that any parent who thinks that their kid is immune from this problem is making a mistake,” said Jennifer Epstein, whose 18-year-old son died from an overdose in 2020.

A number of national initiatives have aimed to increase awareness and education about substance use, including in Oregon. In 2021, the Beaverton School District launched the Fake and Fatal Awareness program, which builds drug awareness into school curriculum, and has seen positive results.

“Since March of 2021 we have not had any reported student deaths due to fentanyl,” said Jen Hicks, a teacher at the Beaverton School District.

In addition to conversations to educate, parents can also watch their children’s behavior for signs that it might be time to talk about drug use.

"If you’re noticing a change in routine, some seclusion, some changes in academic performance, mood, these are some things that would be concerning, and you might want to talk to your child about it. Use open-ended questions, be not confrontational or punitive, but just try to understand what’s going on to see if there is an issue,” Franz said.

This town hall was part of KATU’s Recover Northwest campaign, supported by Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Oregon, which aims to bring awareness to mental health and substance use disorders. You can watch the town hall on KATU.com

We’re here to help

Regence offers access to traditional and virtual substance use disorder treatment providers such as Boulder Care, Eleanor Health (Washington only) and Hazelden Betty Ford. If your employer has an employee assistance program (EAP), your use of the program is confidential and at low or no cost. 

We encourage you to visit these providers’ websites or call Regence’s Customer Service team at the number listed on your member ID card to verify which virtual care and traditional behavioral health options are available through your health plan. 

Remember 988 – the new National Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. When people call, text, or chat 988, they will be connected to trained counselors who will listen, understand how their problems are affecting them, provide support, and connect them to resources if needed.