PPB seizes more meth, pot, cocaine in 2021, but staffing limits investigations

Multnomah County

The Narcotics and Organized Crime Unit said it no longer has the resources to investigate established drug organizations due to limited staffing

Cash, guns, crack cocaine and fentanyl found when police arrested Randy English and Demetrius Bland in the North Park Blocks of Portland, November 16, 2021 (PPB)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The Portland Police Bureau says it’s seen a significant increase in the amount of methamphetamine, marijuana and cocaine it’s seized in 2021 – all while struggling to keep up with large investigations. 

Prior to 2021, PPB’s Narcotics and Organized Crime Unit split its responsibilities between two teams. One group focused on intercepting drugs as they entered the Portland metro area. The other group focused on long-term drug investigations involving established drug organizations and investigated overdose deaths in the city. 

With the staffing cuts, the second group, which conducted the investigations, has been eliminated. 

“This has greatly limited our ability to dismantle drug trafficking organizations in our area.  Currently, we are still triaging all overdose deaths; however, with minimal staffing we are limited as to these investigations as well,” The Narcotics and Organized Crime Unit told KOIN 6 News in a statement. 

As of Nov. 23, 2021, police say there have been 118 overdose deaths. That’s significantly higher than the number reported in all of 2020, 86 deaths. However, it’s fewer than the 183 overdose deaths reported in the year 2018. 

PPB said it’s investigated 12 overdose deaths so far in 2021. 

This year, PPB estimates the amount of drugs confiscated are worth more than $46 million. That’s nearly $8 million more than what the confiscated drugs in 2020 were estimated to be worth, and the year still isn’t over. 

Recent data shows PPB has seen an increase in the amount of cocaine, methamphetamine, and marijuana it’s confiscated compared to 2020. 

PPB said it has seen an increase in counterfeit prescription pill seizures in 2021. However, the data shows the number of pills seized so far in 2021, 197,323, pales in comparison to the total number confiscated in 2020, 561,189. 

Despite this, the number of pills seized in 2021 is still a massive increase over other recent years. In 2019, police seized 13,521 pills and in 2018, they seized 26,938. 

Police said the overwhelming amount of counterfeit prescription pills they seize are made with fentanyl – a synthetic opioid that the National Institute on Drug Abuse says is similar to morphine but 50 to 100 times more potent. 

The Narcotics and Organized Crime Unit said anecdotally, it’s hearing that there is an increase in drug use, but from their perspective, they have no way to confirm this. 

KOIN 6 News asked the Narcotics and Organized Crime Unit if Measure 110 impacted the 2021 statistics. Measure 110 passed on the Oregon ballot in 2020 and went into effect on Feb. 1, 2021. The measure reclassified having personal amounts of drugs such as heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine from a Class A misdemeanor to a Class E violation and means violators now only face a $100 fine or a completed health assessment. 

The Narcotics and Organized Crime Unit said Measure 110 has not affected it because the unit focuses on organizations that distribute or transport large quantities of drugs, not personal amounts.  

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