Portland, OR – Oregon’s top leaders have declared a 90-day state of emergency in downtown Portland in an urgent effort to address the city’s escalating fentanyl crisis after a spike in overdoses and deaths.
Governor Tina Kotek, Multnomah County Chair Jessica Vega Pederson, and Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler issued joint emergency declarations on Tuesday citing the public health and safety dangers posed by fentanyl use in Portland’s Central City.
The highly potent synthetic opioid has driven a surge in overdoses across Oregon and the entire U.S.
“Our country and our state have never seen a drug this deadly and addictive, and all are grappling with how to respond,” said Gov. Kotek. She called the emergency collaboration “unprecedented” and said it will bring focused resources to combat fentanyl and save lives.
The emergency order enables the city, county, and state to establish a joint command center in downtown Portland to coordinate data sharing, outreach, treatment resources, and law enforcement operations targeting fentanyl dealers.
Portland Police and Oregon State Police will conduct joint missions to hold fentanyl sellers accountable, while public health campaigns will seek to get users into recovery, housing, and addiction treatment services.
Multnomah County Chair Pederson said the urgent action will address the “very human toll” of fentanyl overdoses and deaths that are creating “day-to-day suffering” and fear among Portland families.
Oregon legalized possession of small amounts of hard drugs like heroin, meth, and fentanyl under Measure 110 in 2020. But opioid overdose deaths have climbed steadily since, with fentanyl involved in most.
State health data shows Oregon overdose deaths skyrocketed from 280 in 2019 before decriminalization to 956 last year, over a 300% increase in just three years. Approximately 71% of 2022 deaths involved fentanyl.
The synthetic drug is up to 100 times more potent than morphine and phenomenally addictive. Just two milligrams can be lethal. The CDC says fentanyl is by far the deadliest drug fueling America’s overdose epidemic.
Nearly 106,699 Americans died of overdoses in 2021, approximately 66% involving fentanyl. Deaths have jumped 390% nationwide in five years as the drug proliferated. Oregon’s 2022 toll equates to a shocking 38% single-year increase.
Mayor Wheeler said the Central City emergency declarations will bring “unprecedented collaboration and focused resources targeting fentanyl” in downtown Portland where open drug use and overdoses are rampant.
The 90-day effort aims to yield a “roadmap for next steps” in what officials called a united leadership response to fentanyl’s deadly impacts on Portlanders.
CDC experts say broadening access to medications for opioid use disorder is crucial to reversing the worsening trends in overdose deaths. Oregon currently ranks nearly last in access to treatment.
The emergency order will establish a command center to track real-time fentanyl impacts and deploy resources quickly to emerging needs. Officials vowed to use data to target gaps in addiction services.
While decriminalization aimed to prevent overdoses by removing fear of arrest, the unregulated street supply of fentanyl has driven deaths higher across Oregon. Officials hope targeted enforcement on dealers while expanding treatment access can help curb the escalating crisis.
This joint emergency action shows Oregon leaders are taking the fentanyl threat seriously after the troubling spike in deaths post-decriminalization. Time will tell if their urgent collaboration makes a dent in overdoses, but any progress saving lives will be worth the effort.