PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — According to the Center for Disease Control, fentanyl overdose deaths are rising dramatically across the U.S., and police say that trend is happening in Portland.
KOIN 6 News sent a crew out with the Portland Police Bureau bike team on Tuesday as they patrolled downtown during the day. Essentially every call they responded to involved fentanyl.
PPB said sometimes they’re responding to up to five overdoses a day and are giving out all the Narcan they have.
Officer David Baer is a member of the bike team and runs the squad’s popular Instagram account. He says the purpose of their social media is to give people a look at what they’re out dealing with on a daily basis, which lately has come down to one thing.
“At this point, fentanyl is essentially my full-time job,” he said. “It’s the volume and the violence around that. People are carrying guns because they’re involved with the fentanyl trade. We’re seizing more guns, and seizing amounts of dope that four years ago would have been unfathomable to bike officers … When I took this job, this was a total nothing gig. I took this job because I could get dayshift and weekends off, our biggest concern then was people drinking beers in public.”
For the low-level offense of doing the drug in public, some people get tickets. They also give out resources for treatment and help. According to police, Portland is now on track for the second year in a row of record overdose deaths — there have been 111 overdose deaths so far this year.
Baer says the bureau started the Instagram account to talk about bike registration. But it’s morphed into something much different.
“(It’s) showing, frankly, a gritty first-person look into the gritty state of downtown, from our perspective,” Baer said. “There was nobody else after COVID. They disbanded units to staff up patrol, we were one of the last units left, and downtown was in its current state. We kept working. People were upset about how bad downtown is, so we’re like, ‘we’ll show you what we’re doing.'”
According to Baer, a lot of the people they stop for public drug use think fentanyl is legal since the passage of Measure 110, which decriminalized the possession of small amounts of hard drugs in Oregon.
Police think some people are overdosing because they don’t know the drugs they’re using are cut with fentanyl. They believe that dealers lace fentanyl into the drugs to make them more addictive.
“Some people tell me ‘oh no, this is an oxy.’ At this point, you need to assume anything you’re smoking on the street is fentanyl. All the drugs we’ve tested have tested positive for the fentanyl. A few weeks ago we tested crystal meth. We swabbed it and it also tested for fentanyl,” Baer said.
While a KOIN 6 crew was out on patrol, some people stopped for smoking in public have outstanding warrants and have to be arrested. Baer says they often see the same people overdosing again.
“We’ve Narcaned the same person multiple times before,” he said.
Despite what he sees every day, Baer’s optimistic Portland’s worst days are in the past.
“I’m hoping downtown is finally on the road to recovery. I’m hoping things improve,” he said.
As for how so much of the drug is getting to Portland, the DEA says the chemicals to create fentanyl are coming from China, which are made into the drug in Mexico, and then smuggled up the I-5 corridor by cartels.