An image of assorted pills and a needle with an unknown liquid in it. Portland has battled an addictive drug crisis over the past decade. Photo by Maico Pinelli.

Illicit drug use in Oregon exceeds the national average. Over the past several years, drug usage and death rates have severely spiked, and drug overdoses are now killing more people than guns and car accidents combined.

Meth is Oregon’s number one problem drug and has been for several years. It was responsible for 202 deaths in 2015. Meth has been on the drug scene since the 50s. Readily available and very cheap, meth remains popular and attracts marginalized people. It is also highly addictive and produces a longer and stronger high than cocaine. Meth leads to a series of side effects like skin sores, heart attack, and memory loss. These things make it both desirable and very dangerous.

Another often fatal drug is heroin, which can be a direct side effect of prescription drug addictions. A patient with pain will be prescribed too much medication, including opioids like oxycodone. Though seemingly innocent, these opioids are highly addictive and have caused addicts to do irrational things like break their bones to be prescribed a simple ‘fix.’ The biggest issues for these people are the self-inflicted pain and the prices of the drugs. This tends to lead addicts to resort to heroin, which is also an opioid but is more pure, much cheaper than its prescription drug counterpart and doesn’t need to be prescribed.
In teenagers, there has been a recent spike in using pills for a high. Drugs like OxyContin, Xanax, and Vicodin have made their ways into the black market and tend to be the leftovers from people who had medical procedures that required these medications to heal. These pills are being mixed together and getting washed down with alcohol, and they have the potential to be more dangerous than what teenagers have done in the past. “Word has gotten out,” says Franklin’s Drug and Alcohol Counselor, Scott Gallagher. The ‘word’ of prescription drugs has been spread, due to their recent availability and the simplicity of taking them.

As for the future of the Portland drug scene, Gallagher hopes that more will agree with him that treatment is the answer for those challenged with using drugs, as opposed to punishing and arresting them. Gallagher, when not at Franklin, is a Community Outreach Manager at Depaul Treatment Center and strongly believes in treatment. “Drug usage will always be a thing until we make a law for drug addicts.” He believes the only way we can help addicts is by keeping them away from jail, focusing on them, and helping cure their addiction. As for if drugs will actually become scarce—“To be honest, I don’t think it ever gets better,” says Gallagher, “it fluxuates.” He says it never really changes, but they’re always working towards making Oregon a healthier place.