Authorities in Portland, the largest city in the US state of Oregon, have declared a 90-day state of emergency in an attempt to contain the impact of fentanyl in the US city.
The widespread use of fentanyl, a synthetic painkiller 50 times more powerful than heroinis the factor causing the increase in drug-related deaths in the USA.
In Oregon, the increase in deaths occurred at a time when there was also a decision to decriminalize the use of most drugs, including fentanyl.
On Tuesday, state and city officials said tolerated drug use is hurting Portland, a city that has seen homelessness and drug addiction spread on its streets in recent years.
The phenomenon caused several important companies and some residents to decide to move to other places.
According to Multnomah County, where Portland is located, the number of fentanyl-related overdose deaths increased by 533% between 2018 and 2022.
Gov. Tina Kotek announced a state of emergency and acknowledged that the city is suffering “economic and reputational harm” due to the fentanyl problem.
“Our country and our state have never seen a drug so addictive and we are all struggling to find an answer,” the governor said in a statement.
Fentanyl use has spread across the U.S. in recent years, becoming a major health and political issue.
The use of the drug has grown exponentially. In 2016, fentanyl was responsible for 62% of overdose deaths in Washington. In 2021, it was the cause of 96% of drug-related deaths.
President Joe Biden described the situation as a “tragedy.” His government announced in November a federal plan to facilitate access to treatment for drug addicts and strengthen international cooperation.
Some of the chemicals used to make fentanyl are exported en masse from China and processed in Mexico by criminal groups.
Accompanied by Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and Multnomah County Chair Jessica Vega Pederson, the governor announced on Tuesday new action from all three levels of government to address the fentanyl crisis.
The order establishes a temporary command center where “state, city and county officials will come together to coordinate strategies and response efforts,” Kotek, Wheeler and Vega Pederson said in a joint statement.
The plan also calls for a campaign by the Oregon Department of Health with advertisements on billboards, public transportation and the internet to promote the prevention and treatment of drug addiction.
The campaign also asks for resources for addicts and calls on the police to crack down on open drug trafficking.
The governor said county, city and state leaders will act with “urgency and unity” to make progress against fentanyl.
“The next 90 days will lead to unprecedented collaboration and resources focused on fentanyl and provide a roadmap for next steps,” he added.
Everyone in Portland knows the challenge will not be easy.
In 2020, Oregonians passed Measure 110, which decriminalized the use of most drugs and established that when police find fentanyl users they must refer them to treatment centers. Many of them, however, do not appear.
According to state data, Opioid deaths in Oregon increased from 738 in 2021, the first year the law took effect, to 956 in 2022.
The governor had previously asked state lawmakers to pass a law criminalizing public drug use, similar to alcohol laws in many places across the country.
But attempts to tighten state drug policies could face opposition from addiction treatment groups, who say recriminalization will lead many to use fentanyl in private, which they say would increase the risks and increase the number of overdoses. .