County declares fentanyl emergency


Last updated 2/13/2024 at 9:31am

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The DEA warns of "rainbow fentanyl" that looks like candy.

Deschutes County declared a state of emergency February 7 over the growing fentanyl crisis in Central Oregon that is following the statewide trend of lethal drug overdoses and associated crime.

The declaration issued by the county board of commissioners, following a vote in favor by commissioners Board Chair Patti Adair, and Tony DeBone, provides no money nor redirects any resources. Commissioner Phil Chang abstained, claiming the declaration doesn't give the county any specific direction or tools in fighting the problem.

"It names the problem," Chang told The Nugget, "but it puts no resources on the table. I argue that it should have been a proclamation, drawing attention to the seriousness of the problem, but a declaration is not a mature proposal."

Adair told us, "We have to do something. Seven died in January, four on the same day. People have to know how bad the problem is, and how worse it is getting. Hopefully this sends a message to the legislature."

Chang compared the Deschutes declaration to the one in Portland.

On January 30, Oregon Governor Tina Kotek, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, and Multnomah County Chair Jessica Vega Pederson issued the declaration for a 90-day period during which collaboration and response will come from a command center downtown. The three governments are directing their agencies to work with first responders in connecting people addicted to the synthetic opioid with resources including drug treatment programs and to crack down on drug sales.

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

The declaration follows a recommendation from a governor-established task force that met for several months last year to determine ways to rejuvenate downtown Portland.

People addicted to fentanyl who interact with first responders in Portland's downtown in the next 90 days will be triaged by this new command center. Staff can connect people with various resources, from a bed in a drug treatment center, to meeting with a behavioral health clinician, to help with registering for food stamps.

"We cannot underestimate the tremendous value of bringing leaders from different disciplines in a room on a daily basis who all account for a different part of the solution," Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said in a statement.

Chang was suggesting that more backend work should have been done and a comprehensive plan with all the legs of combating the problem - interdiction, treatment, and prevention included.

"We have fentanyl everywhere and our young people are dying," Adair said. "We need to solve this problem. These people are our future. It's a start. We have to create awareness and the declaration does that. People don't know how bad the problem is."

"Now is the time for action. We're experiencing a crisis and need the community to understand how dangerous this is," said Commissioner Tony DeBone in a media release.

"We need the community to come together and look out for one another. This is getting worse every day."

Adair is frustrated that there are no numbers yet for 2023, but from 2018 to 2022 deaths in the county rose from 11 to 25, and that's the trend that disturbs her most. Deschutes County has a drug overdose mortality of 12.2 per 100,000 population, whereas Oregon as a whole sees a rate more than double at 29.5 per 100,000.

Fentanyl is up to 50 times stronger than heroin and about 100 times stronger than morphine as a pain reliever, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In 2023 fatal overdoses exceeded 112,000 deaths, with young people and people of color topping the list.

Adair would like to see wider availability of Narcan saying, "It should be in every home or in your car."

The U.S. Drug Enforce-ment Administration has warned of a sharp increase in the trafficking of fentanyl mixed with xylazine. Xylazine, also known as "tranq," is a powerful sedative that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved for veterinary use.

Adair said that there appears to be some "tranq" in the county too.

"That's even more devastating," she said.

Xylazine and fentanyl drug mixtures place users at a higher risk of suffering a fatal drug poisoning. Because xylazine is not an opioid, naloxone (Narcan) does not reverse its effects. Still, experts always recommend administering naloxone if someone might be suffering a drug poisoning. People who inject drug mixtures containing xylazine also can develop severe wounds, including necrosis that may lead to amputation.


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