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News / Northwest

Kotek and Portland-area leaders forge coordinated response to fentanyl addiction

Oregon, Portland and Multnomah County officials announce a command center to coordinate work on the fentanyl crisis in Portland’s urban core

By BEN BOTKIN, Oregon Capital Chronicle
Published: January 30, 2024, 2:24pm

Gov. Tina Kotek and leaders from Portland and Multnomah County on Tuesday declared a 90-day state of emergency to address the fentanyl addiction and overdose crisis that is plaguing Portland’s central city.

Kotek, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and Multnomah County Chair Jessica Vega Pederson signed executive orders that will enable the three agencies to set up a command center that will allow city, county and state employees to coordinate and work together to try to rein in the addiction crisis in Portland’s downtown area. Kotek’s Portland Central City Task Force had recommended the emergency declarations and a command center as part of the response to address drug addiction and homelessness in Oregon’s largest city with existing resources.

The plans come as government officials recognize that the fentanyl addiction crisis needs a public health response to help users and a law enforcement response to stop drug dealers who push fentanyl on the streets. Statewide, 956 people died of a drug overdose in Oregon, up from 280 people in 2019. Data is still being compiled for 2023, but the total could reach 1,250 deaths.

“Our country and our state have never seen a drug this deadly (and) addictive, and all are grappling with how to respond,” Kotek said in a statement. “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 announcement comes the week before the Oregon Legislature starts its 35-day session on Monday, which will focus primarily on the drug addiction and homelessness crisis in Oregon.  Democratic lawmakers have released a proposal that would make drug possession a low-level misdemeanor, with the option for users to avoid a charge if they enter a treatment program. The proposal also includes expanded clinics, services and housing.

Republican lawmakers want to pass tougher penalties for drug possession after Measure 110 decriminalized possession of small amounts of hard drugs and put a share of cannabis revenue toward addiction services and programs.

Different agencies to work together

Kotek said the next 90 days will bring about “unprecedented collaboration” to target fentanyl as the agencies join forces to work together. State, county and city employees will coordinate strategies to help people, share ideas and check in every day as they track the crisis.

From the state, personnel with the Oregon Department of Human Services, Oregon Department of Emergency Management, Oregon Health Authority and Oregon State Police will work from the command center.

The command center, which will be located in the Portland Building in the city’s downtown, will not be publicly accessible for people to seek treatment. The area will be a private space for agencies to coordinate and plan strategies, partly due to the confidential medical information of people they help. Officials pledged to give updates to the public and media.

Multnomah County will have its staffers fan out to work with people on the streets to prevent exposure and use of fentanyl, reduce harm among people using and increase access to outreach. County staffers will come from different areas such as the health department, human services, community justice and homeless services.

The county will also increase the visibility and coordination of county contractors who do outreach and distribute Narcan, which stops fentanyl overdoses and saves lives.

Data will be shared

The command center will share publicly available data about the impacts of fentanyl in downtown Portland and use data to shape the response and identify needs.

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”If you or a loved one is struggling with a fentanyl addiction, we hear you, we see you and we are taking this crisis seriously,” Vega Pederson of Multnomah County said. “We are acting with shared leadership to take urgent action today to respond to the very human toll fentanyl takes in our community, including overdoses, fatalities and day-to-day suffering, and the fear so many families are experiencing as a result.”

The city of Portland will deploy services that include outreach by people in recovery, public safety and behavioral health services. The Portland Police Bureau and Oregon State Police are already coordinating investigations that target fentanyl dealers.

“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,” Wheeler said in a statement. “We do not have the luxury of relying on one branch of government, or one approach to the problem.”

Each agency involved in the command center will have an incident commander. They are: Nathan Reynolds, deputy chief of policy and mission support at the Office of Resilience and Emergency Management for the state; Dr. Jennifer Vines for Multnomah County, the county’s former health officer; and Mike Myers, director of the Community Safety Division for Portland.

Oregon Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Oregon Capital Chronicle maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Lynne Terry for questions: info@oregoncapitalchronicle.com. Follow Oregon Capital Chronicle on Facebook and Twitter.