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Skagit County to collect local overdose data

January 11, 2019

MOUNT VERNON — The Skagit County Board of Commissioners approved Tuesday a plan to collect local data on overdoses.

Starting in April, hospitals and emergency medical services providers will be required to report both fatal and nonfatal opioid overdoses to county Public Health.

Joanne Lynn, communicable disease and environmental health manager with Public Health, said that data will help her department create programs that are better-targeted specifically to Skagit County.

Currently, data on opioid overdoses is collected by the state Department of Health. By the time the county sees this data, Lynn said it’s often months old.

The data collected by the state is presented regionally — not by county — which Lynn said prevents Public Health from learning things that may be specific to Skagit County.

Further, the data provided by the state does not include demographic information, such as age or location in the county, which she said would help Public Health target its programs and funding.

“Basically, we don’t know what we don’t know,” Lynn said.

Collecting data locally will help Public Health learn more about the people who are treated for overdoses and understand which areas of the county are more at risk, Lynn said.

“If we get naloxone out to certain communities, that will pay off by saving lives,” she said, referring to the drug used to treat opioid overdoses.

Over the next 90 days, county staff will talk with hospitals and ambulance providers to create a method of reporting the data and a secure database to store it, she said.

In addition to crafting public health policy, the database will make it easier for health care providers to follow up with overdose patients after they leave the hospital, said David Jefferson, community health analyst with the county.

If a patient leaves the hospital after suffering a heart attack, there’s an expectation someone will check up on them, and Jefferson said substance use disorder should be treated the same way.

“It makes so much sense to be able to follow up with them and offer them the kind of treatment that can change their lives,” he said.

While hospitals and EMS providers will collect the names of those who suffer an overdose, the database will not be available to law enforcement, Public Health Officer Howard Leibrand said.

“There is no way that this will be punitive,” he said.

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