PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The Multnomah County Commission meeting got heated Thursday when one commissioner called out County Chair Jessica Vega Pederson for her decision to approve handing out free drug paraphernalia to addicts without any feedback.
At the meeting, Pederson brought up her decision to start and then suddenly stop having county clinics hand out free straws, foil, snorting kits glass pipes to drug addicts. She said it was supposed to be a pilot program to see if it would help get more addicts connected to treatment programs and distribute Narcan, plus fentanyl test strips.
Commissioners Julia Brim-Edwards and Dr. Sharon Meieran told KOIN 6 News they are strongly opposed to Pederson’s plan. Meieran said during the session that the county lacks an overall plan for the fentanyl addiction crisis and that Pederson should take the blame.
“When there was pushback, some calling out by the public, I was concerned that you would put the blame on the health department you are in charge of,” Meieran said. “You knew about this back in early May, yet when things turned around you could have talked with us about this in May (or) June. I don’t think blaming the health department is the healthy way to lead.”
The chair admits she should have worked closer on this with the other commissioners and says she will be more transparent going forward.
The commissioners also heard from recovering drug addicts who asked them to permanently stop any plan to hand out free drug smoking paraphernalia.
“I’m a 17-year recovering addict. I’ve been through the system. I’ve got lived experience. I also have a daughter who is 25 who is an addict and living on the streets,” said a woman named Alice. “They’re passing out tin foil straws so they can continue their use instead of assisting them finding resources, help for mental health traumas.”