What’s driving the meth surge in and around Portland?

Multnomah County

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Portland city officials continue to be concerned about the rising use of drugs like meth and opioids throughout the homeless community — so what is causing the surge and what’s being done to fight it?

An increase in meth usage is reportedly being seen among the homeless — and while officials say it’s easier to get meth than opioids, both are being used together. They say meth being seen around the area is very pure, incredibly potent, readily available and inexpensive.

When meth looks this way for a sustained period of time — which it has locally for the past few years — we experience the worst of its collateral damage to lives, families and communities.

At the height of our meth lab epidemic in the 1980s and 1990s, about 35% of the meth on the street was locally produced. These days, that number is basically zero and the result is being felt.

“Oregon was really at the forefront of closing down the old ephedrine-based meth labs and we made a huge dent in the number of people who were using back in the day,” said Dr. Todd Korthuis, the head of addiction medicine at OHSU. Now, though, “it’s more pervasive in our communities than ever before.”

Denis Theriault with the Joint Office of Homeless Services says one way we’re fighting the drug surge is by investing in harm reduction on the street along with contingency management programs. He says although some money is being dedicated to those programs and more counselors are being placed on the streets — the use of this foreign-made, highly-potent meth that’s out there is causing a problem that is quickly getting out of control.

“I wish we could control the spigot and this is a thing that is really turning [into] a fire hose in some ways, forcing people out of their homes into our system where we would all be better served if people didn’t become homeless in the first place,” Theriault explained.

According to Theriault, some of the outreach team believes people manage their substance use differently over the last few years, but others would say other factors add to it such as the pandemic, stress and the way some rehabilitation programs’ sobriety rules are set up.

Moreso, Theriault says the slide into homelessness can escalate more quickly here than in some other parts of the country due to the lack of affordable housing.

“Because if you’re paying $1,100 in rent and you start spending your money on substances, it’s going to be harder to pay that rent,” he said.

Between factors like rent, pandemic-related stress and the fact that a highly sophisticated form of meth has been hitting the streets — the city and surrounding areas have their work cut out for them as officials try and mitigate the drug surge.

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