So much for an emergency! Portland piously sounded alarm on fentanyl crisis promising a crackdown – but the reality is junkies on every corner and paramedics taking over 20 minutes to respond to ODs
Within an hour of arriving in downtown Portland to survey the city’s newly declared ‘state of emergency’ over its fentanyl crisis, I call 911.
One of dozens of homeless drug addicts lining the sidewalks just took a whack from a piece of aluminum foil in plain view and collapsed in a lifeless heap.
In a country where overdoses have caused more than 200 deaths in 2022 alone, I fear another one may happen right in front of me.
The 911 operator asks for a location—Everett Street and Fourth Avenue in Chinatown—a description of the patient, a black man probably no older than 30, and takes my contact information. “We’ll pass it on,” the handler replied calmly and hung up.
But nearly 20 minutes later, there are still no first responders on the scene. By now the man had begun to stir, finally stumbling to his feet before moving away.
Homeless drug addict gets hit with what appears to be fentanyl in downtown Portland
Public drug use is still common despite officials declaring a ‘state of emergency’
The user falls to the ground looking lifeless after smoking the drug
He survived – this time. But given the 533 percent explosion in overdose deaths in Multnomah County, where Portland is located, since 2018, there’s a scary chance his next hit could be his last.
And after only a few hours here, I think: so much for an emergency.
Oregon Governor Tina Kotek made the dramatic announcement Jan. 31 along with Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and Multnomah County Chairwoman Jessica Vega Pederson.
“The next 90 days will yield unprecedented collaboration and focused resources targeting fentanyl and providing a roadmap for next steps,” Kotek stated.
But on this drizzly Tuesday morning in downtown Portland, there’s hardly a cop, support worker or city official in sight — and even calling 911 to report a suspected overdose seems to produce no response.
Block after block is full of homeless addicts who openly use fentanyl and other hard drugs in broad daylight. Many users are hunched over or bent double in a zombie-like state – the sign that someone is high on fentanyl.
Is this what ‘unprecedented collaboration and focused resources targeting fentanyl’ looks like?
There were tense scenes when Kotek and her colleagues informed provincial officials about the state of emergency on Thursday, February 1.
City and state officials said the state of emergency would see “unprecedented cooperation and focused resources directed at fentanyl.”
Tents line the streets of downtown Portland in the days after the state of emergency was declared
A drug user openly smokes a drug from a tin can in downtown Portland
During the meeting, Dr. Sharon Meieran, an elected Multnomah County Commissioner, accused the leadership of a “pathetic … feeble attempt to govern by press release.” “It won’t solve anything and it won’t do anything,” she told them.
In an interview with DailyMail.com, Meieran, an emergency room doctor in Portland, was annoyed because she said the announcement didn’t even set forth “a plan for a plan.”
Indeed, there is little substance to the declaration beyond the creation of a ‘command centre’ whose objectives remain vague. Leaders haven’t even decided how they will measure the success of the latest scheme.
“There is no element of this that says state of emergency, except for the title of the statement,” Meieran said.
“We need to see people responding in some way, whether it’s getting people the medical services, getting law enforcement involved, getting people into treatment, whatever it is. And there is none of that.
“So much of what we’re seeing shows it’s all really politically driven rather than substantively driven.”
The explosion in drug deaths and fentanyl addiction in Portland has been linked by critics to the decision to decriminalize essentially all drugs in 2021.
In November of the previous year, Oregon voters supported Ballot Measure 110, which changed the law so that instead of arresting drug users, police issued citations compelling them to seek treatment.
Far from reducing drug use and helping addicts, deaths increased as fentanyl swept the state. Law enforcement officials said that as few as one percent of people who received citations actually received treatment.
The policy is also blamed for allowing public drug use to spread. Users no longer fear arrest or punishment – in fact, their lethal drugs won’t even be confiscated.
Justin Bacchus, who owns a clothing boutique in downtown Portland, said he believes the state of emergency announcement is little more than ‘lip service’
Critics blamed policies including the implementation of Ballot Measure 110, which changed the law so that instead of arresting drug users, police issued citations compelling them to seek treatment
Meieran said confiscation of drugs including fentanyl, which can be bought in pill or powder form for just a few dollars a hit, “should happen.” She also called for more work to tackle the supply chains of the drug.
“I think there’s no question that the decriminalization, especially because it was implemented without any planning or resources or apparent foresight, was a disaster,” she said.
Meieran, who was elected as an independent, also called for an expansion of support services for addicts whose lives have been blighted by the drugs.
She proposed an amendment to the emergency declaration that would add targets such as a 25 percent reduction in fentanyl deaths and overdoses, and increases in treatment services.
Downtown in this once-thriving city — once considered a liberal haven like San Francisco — businesses are also struggling to cope with the fallout from the fentanyl crisis
Many storefronts are boarded up and some of those that remain open even lock their doors, forcing customers to knock for a staff member to let them in. The situation has been exacerbated by the pandemic, which has caused office vacancy and footfall to drop.
Justin Machus, the owner of the MACHUS clothing boutique, said he believed the state of emergency announcement was little more than ‘lip service’ to give the impression that something was being done.
Machus, who has owned businesses in Portland for 22 years and moved into his current unit two-and-a-half years ago, told DailyMail.com: ‘It just got worse and worse. It’s more overt and it’s in your face now. They were different drugs in the late 90s and early 2000s, they were cocaine and heroin.
‘Fentanyl changed everything. It’s just in your face all the time. There is no fear of anything.’
He said that addicts often roam his store, but that the police refuse to move them along unless they are actually on the property. Today, he keeps a container of bear spray behind the counter for self-defense.
A few moments before the interview, two drug users were housed in the outdoor area of a restaurant a few doors away from the store. They were crouched over a piece of aluminum foil and prepared a hit of what appeared to be fentanyl.
Machus and two of his employees said they voted in favor of Measure 110 three years ago, but did not expect it to contribute to the situation today. Their intent was to prevent lifelong criminal records for people who use small amounts of recreational drugs.
“Using (fentanyl) so openly in public, it was something that was never considered. We just don’t want to see people using drugs in public,” Machus added, admitting how shocking it was that something so seemingly obvious had to be stated.
Braxxton Dahm, one of Machus’s employees, added wryly: ‘It’s really easy to declare a state of emergency in an election year’.