PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Ask the people who work for local non-profit organizations that send workers into homeless camps how the synthetic opioid fentanyl has turbocharged conditions on the street and their responses are direct and similar.

“It’s like a bomb going off in our city. It’s huge,” said Jeff Woodward with the Mental Health & Addiction Association of Oregon. “It’s just created this perfect storm.”

“The challenges are huge,” said Terry Leckron-Myers with the same group. “We have all of the people who are dying, overdosing on fentanyl.”

Fentanyl pills and cash, August 2022 (DEA)
Fentanyl pills and cash, August 2022 (DEA)

Daphne Nesbitt with Transition Projects said, “It’s just been just relentless, not letting up.”

Woodward, who was homeless at one time, said it was brutal at the time. “But nothing like it is today. The violence. The fentanyl.”

“We have people who don’t have enough treatment. We have people who don’t have enough housing,” Leckron-Myers said. “And so when we talk about the arc, the challenges are huge because what I used to do with drugs back in, maybe, the ’80s so now what we thought back then was a huge drug crisis, this is a huge epidemic.”

Even the outreach workers are offered the drug all the time, Woodward said. “We see its use everywhere and we see the impact of it everywhere. I mean, it’s killing people. And so, you know, part of our harm reduction is that we have fentanyl test strips and we try to distribute those as often as possible. We also warn people about the blues.”

Bags of fentanyl pills, August 2022 (Multnomah County Sheriff's Office)
Bags of fentanyl pills, August 2022 (Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office)

“The blues” are the blue pills people think are prescription pain killers but are often instead laced with a deadly amount of cheaper fentanyl, which can be 100 times more potent than morphine.

Last week the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office put out a warning about Rainbow Fentanyl, a multi-colored powder found during a bust in Northeast Portland.

One deputy told KOIN 6 News, “It’s stronger and almost looks like cocaine, but it’s actually fentanyl powder. If you open that, the powder can expand in the air and you can inhale that or ingest that. It can cause an overdose.”

Rainbow fentanyl, August 2022 (Multnomah County Sheriff's Office)
Rainbow fentanyl, August 2022 (Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office)

When outreach workers are faced with a person overdosing, often their best bet is giving them Narcan, also called Naloxone. Workers carry it with them, but Narcan doesn’t provide as much hope as it once did.

Narcan generally works with one dose, Woodward said. But “sometimes with the fentanyl it can take more.”

“It’s getting worse,” said Drew Grabham with Central City Concern “People are needing 4 doses sometimes.”

Woodward said the fentanyl is so strong people’s blood pressure drops “and it’s harder to bring them back.”

One of the reasons it takes outreach workers weeks of going back day after day working with one person to slowly gain their trust is because fentanyl is so addictive. It takes time for the addicted to accept help.

These non-profits are expanding the number of outreach workers with funding from the Joint Office of Homeless Services.