PORTLAND -- Drug overdoses, particularly involving heroin, rose sharply in 2011.

Heroin led all overdose deaths with 143 last year, a 59 percent increase from the previous year, according to Oregon State Medical Examiner Dr. Karen Gunson. The second highest number of heroin deaths, 131, was in 2000.

Deaths from all overdoses were up 20 percent from the previous year, she said.

The sharp rise in illicit drug deaths in just one year is alarming. Of great concern is the rise in heroin deaths, probably indicating an increase in the availability of the drug, said Gunson.

Thirty-three deaths were cocaine related, she said, down over a decade from 69 deaths in 2000.

Meth overdoses took the life of 107 last year, nearly double the number for 2000.

Thirty-nine deaths were the result of a combination of drugs, she said.

Multnomah County saw 119 overdose deaths in 2011, up 37 percent from 2010. Clackamas County deaths went from 10 in 2010 to 15 last year. Jackson County saw three deaths in 2010 and nine last year.

Overdose deaths from prescribed drugs remained steady from the previous year, Gunson said.

There were 100 deaths last year from methadone, 56 from oxycodone and 37 from hydrocodone.

We must continue to educate patients on the safe use of these medications and continue to warn those who abuse these drugs of how dangerous and fatal misuse may be, said Gunson.

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