Caption: Photograph of the side of Washington Center in downtown Portland. The center is currently closed and was an open-air fentanyl market before being shut down by police in April of 2023. Picture by Tessa Rivard.

On Oct. 2, 2023, eight people overdosed in the Pearl District near the North Park Blocks. According to officials, the people who overdosed were between their late teens and early 20s. On site, all eight victims were quickly administered Narcan. The incident reflects a pattern of increased fentanyl use and distribution in Portland, Oregon. 

Fentanyl has been a growing issue for a number of years, but Oregon’s fentanyl emergency rose to significance around 2014, according to The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

The Old Town and West End parts of downtown Portland are a hotspot for fentanyl selling and usage. Portland Police officer David Baer says, “the majority of the work we do in downtown Portland has some sort of fentanyl nexus, be it stolen cars, burglaries or thefts. We also find a majority of street violence is related to fentanyl.” David Baer is a part of the central bike squad, and the Neighborhood Response Team (NRT). The bike squad is responsible for the majority of fentanyl confiscated in downtown Portland. He has been working with the Portland Police Bureau for 12 years, but only recently began in a fentanyl targeted job. Near the end of July of 2023, Multnomah County deputies seized over 58,000 fentanyl pills and more than 16 pounds of fentanyl powder. This was the largest ever fentanyl bust made in Portland, according to Fox News. 

The Washington Center building in downtown was cleared by police in April of this year after a report from KGW, which resulted in its exposure as an open-air fentanyl market. Similarly, The Three Kings LLC building, just a few blocks away on SW 6th Avenue, has also been a past hive of drug dealers selling fentanyl. 

Gov. Tina Kotek, as of September of this year, is bringing in Oregon State Police (OSP) to deal with the selling, possession, and use of fentanyl across all of Oregon, including Portland. The OSP has seized 62 pounds of fentanyl and almost 233,000 pills so far in 2023.

The rise of fentanyl is mostly linked to an increase of illegal transportation of the illicit drug, specifically from Mexico and China, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

As stated by Dave Miller of OPB, “The Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación also known as CJNG is a global criminal enterprise. Their drug rings in Portland, Hillsboro, Oregon City, Seaside and Hood River were part of a massive distribution system that brought fentanyl, meth, and other illicit drugs throughout the state and across the country.”

This past June, House Bill 2645 was passed, increasing penalties for certain amounts of fentanyl. This new House Bill eliminated parts of Measure 110, which legalized small amounts of drugs, including opioid pills, such as fentanyl. Measure 110 was voted for by Oregonians in November of 2020. “Since the implementation of Measure 110 — which was passed by Oregon voters — personal possession and use of drugs has been a violation similar to not wearing a seatbelt,” says Baer. Because of Measure 110, police have only been allowed to arrest people for possession of fentanyl as of June 2023. It is now considered a misdemeanor if a person has five or more fentanyl pills or over a gram of fentanyl powder. 

Statistically most of the people overdosing on fentanyl are adult men, yet an alarming number of them are minors. As reported by Portland police, there have been ten suspected overdoses involving minors since mid-June, of which nine out of the ten overdoses were caused by fentanyl. Five out of the ten children died. 

A 15-month old baby overdosed on fentanyl at the end of September, in SE Portland. The child was alone in her parents’ car, parked in a parking garage. The child presumably put tinfoil used to smoke narcotics in her mouth, said officials. It was the firefighters who came to her rescue with Narcan, even though her parents were in the parking garage the entire time. Multiple other babies and toddlers have also overdosed in Portland this year, showcasing the harm that is imminent when deadly drugs are so readily available.

The new Harm Reduction club at Franklin is a great place to go if you’re interested in learning more about how to help with this pressing issue. Co-leader Sylvia Tanner, a sophomore at Franklin High School, is working with our health teachers to improve the drugs and alcohol unit. “We also want to be able to provide fentanyl test strips and Narcan training,” Tanner adds, explaining their goals for the future. Due to this drastic fentanyl uptick and the rise in deaths of Portlanders, many are optimistic about new legislation and changes. 

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