PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Drug overdose deaths are on the rise, with the number growing higher every year.
According to the Multnomah County Health Department as of April, there have been 162 suspected drug overdose deaths in the tri-county area this year and in 2021, nearly half of Oregon’s overdose deaths were in that area alone.
Between 2020 and 2021, overdose deaths increased 24% and fentanyl deaths increased 101%.
Justine Pope is a harm reductionist and public health practitioner for the Portland People’s Outreach Project, a volunteer-run street outreach program.
Pope said that she believes the actual number of overdose deaths is higher than what’s being reported and that a lot of people may be unaware that whatever drug they are taking is laced with fentanyl.
“We know that many overdoses happen in the community and are not reported people are not seeking medical care afterwards,” said Pope. “Many people are rightfully not wanting to call police or other folks in the carceral state because of fear of punishment.”
According to Pope, the people most at risk are those buying unregulated drugs which don’t have a guaranteed potency or safety for example fentanyl-laced opioids.
But what can people do if they encounter someone they think might be overdosing?
Pope said to approach the situation slowly to not startle anyone and to administer rescue breaths or Narcan if needed and available.
“I don’t want to surprise people so I’ll say ‘Hi friends,’ you know, ‘don’t want to bother you. My name is Justine. I just want to check in, make sure you’re breathing,'” Pope said. “And if someone still isn’t responding, maybe get a little bit closer. You could try to shake them or kind of do a sternum rub.”
She also said if there are others nearby who already have a handle on things to step back and not push it.
Pope also said the best thing we can do to cut down the number of overdose deaths is to provide Narcan and other harm-reduction tools where needed.