It’s an illegal substance — methamphetamine — that shows up most often in the news of record in the Herald, but Baker County’s drug problems aren’t limited to meth.

State statistics show that legally prescribed opioid painkillers also constitute a significant public health problem not only here, but in much of rural Oregon.

Opioids, which are highly addictive, are prescribed at a higher rate, per capita, in Baker County than in Oregon overall.

Baker County also exceeds the state average in the rate at which paramedics during emergency calls administer naloxone, a medication that counteracts the effects of opioids and can prevent overdose deaths.

All of which explains why we were pleased that the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) has awarded a $200,000 federal grant to help combat the opioid problem in Baker, Union, Malheur and Umatilla counties.

The two-year grant will help officials in the four counties spread the word about the opioid crisis, said Mike Stensrud, who works at the Umatilla County Health Department and is coordinating the four-county project.

Another goal is to encourage physicians to use a state database that shows an individual patient’s history of opioid prescriptions. The purpose is to prevent people from “doctor shopping” — visiting multiple doctors to ensure a steady supply of prescription opioids.

This is also an area in which Baker County could improve. According to the most recent OHA statistics, from the third quarter of 2017, about 54 percent of the top opioid prescribers in Baker County were checking their patients’ histories through the state database. Grant County’s rate, by contrast, was 83 percent, and Union County’s was 71 percent.

Ultimately it will take more than two years to make major progress on opioids. Chuck Hofmann, a longtime Baker City physician, said treatment for addicts is vital, and he endorses a combination of medication and mental health and substance abuse counseling.

In the meantime, though, educating the public about the problem can contribute to its eventual solution.

From the Baker City Herald editorial board. The board consists of editor Jayson Jacoby and reporter Chris Collins.

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