Portland declares fentanyl state of emergency as overdose deaths skyrocket
02/06/2024 // Cassie B. // Views

Just three years after decriminalizing the possession of all drugs, Portland has declared a 90-day state of emergency over its fentanyl crisis.

Following recommendations from the Portland Central City Task Force, officials from the city, county and state have declared a “tri-governmental” emergency, citing deaths and overdoses as reasons for the declaration. Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, Oregon Governor Tina Kotek and Multnomah County Chair Jessica Vega Pederson made the declaration.

Governor Tina Kotek said: "Our country and our state have never seen a drug this deadly addictive and all are grappling with how to respond."

She added: “The Chair, the Mayor and I recognize the need to act with urgency and unity across our public health and community safety systems to make a dent in this crisis. We are all in this together.”

The emergency order will enable the city, county and state to allocate more resources for responding to the crisis and establish a command center, which will be headed up by the director of Portland’s Community Safety Division. Individuals who are addicted to fentanyl who interact with first responders in the city during the next 90 days will be triaged by the command center. Officials will also launch public health campaigns and improve outreach to help people with treatment and recovery.

In addition, Portland Police will join forces with the Oregon State Police to patrol the streets of the city's downtown area for sales of fentanyl.

Multnomah County Commissioner Julia Brim-Edwards explained that fentanyl use is everywhere. She said: “If you go to any neighborhood, whether it’s near a school, inside the bathroom at a public library, at a bus shelter, all over the city, you will see that fentanyl has a grip on our neighborhoods.”

Decriminalization measure could be rolled back

In 2020, voters in Oregon passed Measure 110. This decriminalized the use of some hard drugs, including fentanyl. However, opioid overdose deaths have risen considerably since then, and the measure has come under fire. In 2019, the state had 280 opioid overdose deaths; the number climbed to 956 in 2022. Oregon is grappling with the biggest increase in fatal overdoses of synthetic drugs in the nation and ranks third in overall overdose deaths, according to CDC data.

A proposal to roll back some parts of Measure 110 has attracted bipartisan support in the Oregon legislature; the new measure will see some hard drugs being recriminalized and require people who are arrested for possession to undergo counseling for addiction.

Much of the fentanyl in U.S. originates in China and is smuggled across Mexican border

Fentanyl is a highly addictive drug that is deadly even in very small amounts. The synthetic opioid is said to be 100 times more powerful than morphine and 50 times more potent than heroin. It is approved by the FDA for the treatment of acute pain.

Mexican cartels have been playing a central role in the U.S. fentanyl crisis, importing the drug from China and then pressing it into pills or mixing the drug into other pills that are made to look like less dangerous drugs, such as Adderall and Xanax, to get people addicted.

This week, American and Chinese officials resumed discussions on how to deal with illicit fentanyl trafficking. Last fall, President Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping announced that China was instructing chemical companies to restrict shipments of materials used to make fentanyl to Latin America, where the drug is typically finished before being smuggled across the border.

The fentanyl crisis, which killed 70,000 Americans in 2021, is yet another reason stricter controls are needed at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Sources for this article include:






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