An hour after arriving in downtown Portland to investigate the city’s newly declared “state of emergency” over the fentanyl crisis, I’m on the phone and calling 911.
One of the dozens of homeless drug addicts lining the sidewalks just got hit by a piece of aluminum foil in plain sight and collapsed in a lifeless heap.
In a county where overdoses caused more than 200 deaths in 2022 alone, I fear another one is about to happen right in front of me.
The 911 operator asks for a location (Everett Street and Fourth Avenue in Chinatown) a description of the patient, a black man who is probably no older than 30, and takes my contact information. “We’ll let you know,” the caretaker responds calmly and hangs up.
But almost 20 minutes later there is still no lifeguard at the scene. By this time, the man has begun to move and finally stands up before shuffling away.
Homeless drug addict gets a dose of what appears to be fentanyl in downtown Portland
Public drug use continues to prevail despite authorities declaring a “state of emergency”
The user falls to the ground and appears lifeless after smoking the drug
He has survived… this time. But given the 533 percent explosion in overdose deaths in Multnomah County, where Portland is located, since 2018, there’s a terrifying possibility that his next hit will be his last.
And after only a few hours here, I’m left thinking: so much for the state of emergency.
Oregon Governor Tina Kotek made the dramatic statement on January 31 alongside Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and Multnomah County President Jessica Vega Pederson.
“The next 90 days will generate unprecedented collaboration and resources focused on fentanyl and provide a roadmap for next steps,” Kotek stated.
But on this rainy Tuesday morning in downtown Portland, there’s barely a police officer, support worker or city official in sight, and even reporting a suspected overdose to 911 seems to produce no response.
Block after block is filled with homeless addicts openly using fentanyl and other hard drugs in broad daylight. Many users are hunched or doubled over in a zombie-like state — the telltale sign that someone is high on fentanyl.
Is this what “unprecedented collaboration and resources focused on fentanyl” looks like?
There were tense scenes when Kotek and his colleagues briefed county officials about the state of emergency on Thursday, February 1.
City and state officials said the state of emergency would mark “unprecedented collaboration and focused resources on fentanyl.”
Tents line the streets of downtown Portland in the days after the state of emergency was declared.
Drug user openly smokes tin-working substance in downtown Portland
During the meeting, Multnomah County Commissioner-elect Dr. Sharon Meieran accused leaders of a “pathetic… weak attempt to govern by press releases.” “It won’t solve anything or do anything,” she told them.
In an interview with DailyMail.com, Meieran, an emergency room doctor in Portland, sounded exasperated, saying the ad didn’t even lay out “a plan for a plan.”
In fact, the statement has little substance beyond the creation of a “command center” whose goals remain vague. Leaders haven’t even decided how they will measure the success of the latest plan.
“There is nothing in this that says emergency except the title of the declaration,” Meieran said.
‘We need to see people who are responding in some way, whether it’s getting medical services, getting law enforcement involved, referring people to treatment, whatever. And there is none of that.
“Much of what we’re seeing shows that all of this is really politically driven and not substantively driven.”
Critics have linked the explosion of drug deaths and fentanyl addiction in Portland to the decision to decriminalize essentially all drugs in 2021.
In November of the previous year, Oregon voters supported Ballot Measure 110, which changed the law so that instead of arresting drug users, police would issue citations forcing them to seek treatment.
Far from reducing drug use and helping addicts, deaths increased as fentanyl spread across the state. Law enforcement officials have said that only 1 percent of people who received citations actually received treatment.
This policy is also blamed for allowing public drug use to proliferate. Users no longer fear being arrested or punished; in fact, their lethal substances will not even be confiscated.
Justin Bacchus, owner of a clothing boutique in downtown Portland, said he believes the state of emergency announcement is little more than hot air.
Critics have blamed policies such as the implementation of Ballot Measure 110, which altered the law so that instead of arresting drug users, police issued subpoenas forcing them to seek treatment.
Meieran said the seizure of drugs, including fentanyl, which can be purchased in pill or powder form for just a few dollars a dose, “should be happening.” He also called for more work to address drug supply chains.
“I think there’s no doubt that decriminalization, especially because it was implemented without planning or resources, or without apparent foresight, was a disaster,” he said.
Meieran, who was elected as a non-partisan, also called for an expansion of support service for addicts whose lives have been devastated by drugs.
He proposed an amendment to the emergency declaration that would add goals such as a 25 percent reduction in fentanyl deaths and overdoses, and increases in treatment services.
In the heart of this once-prosperous city, which like San Francisco before it was seen as a liberal paradise, businesses are also struggling to cope with the fallout from the fentanyl crisis.
Many shops are boarded up and some of those that remain open even lock their doors, forcing customers to knock so a member of staff can open the door for them. The situation has worsened with the pandemic, which caused a precipitous drop in empty offices and public influx.
Justin Machus, owner of the MACHUS clothing boutique, said he believes the state of emergency announcement is little more than lip service to give the impression that something is being done.
Machus, who has been a business owner in Portland for 22 years and moved into his current unit two and a half years ago, told DailyMail.com: ‘It’s gotten progressively worse. It’s more obvious and now it’s in your face. They were different drugs in the late ’90s and early 2000s, it was cocaine and heroin.
‘Fentanyl has changed everything. It’s in your face all the time. There is no fear of anything.’
He said addicts often hang around his store, but police refuse to remove them unless they are actually on the property. Today, she keeps a can of bear spray behind the counter for self-defense.
A few moments before the interview, two drug users were sheltering in the outdoor area of a restaurant a couple of doors from the store. They were crouched over a piece of aluminum foil, preparing a dose of what appeared to be fentanyl.
Machus and two of his employees said they had voted in favor of Measure 110 three years ago, but did not expect it to contribute to the current situation. Its intent was to prevent a lifetime criminal record for people who use small amounts of recreational drugs.
‘The open use of (fentanyl) in public was something that was never considered. We just don’t want to see people doing drugs in public,” Machus added, acknowledging how jarring it was that something so seemingly obvious had to be stated.
Braxxxton Dahm, one of Machus’ employees, added wryly: “It’s very easy to declare a state of emergency in an election year.”