‘The new part of the program is that we’re adding supplies for people who smoke drugs,’ Guernsey said, citing that fentanyl is typically smoked by users now.
Portland is currently dealing with both a fentanyl and overall drug epidemic on top of a homeless crisis that has been slammed by residents as ‘out of control.‘
Portland is currently dealing with a homeless crisis which has been slammed by residents as ‘out of control.’ Pictured: A homeless encampment in Portland, Oregon
Health director Jessica Guernsey (pictured) said that they have seen a ‘shift from injection drug use’ and that the new handouts will help to engage those who ‘may not otherwise’
Multnomah County spokesperson Sarah Dean said the rise in fentanyl users smoking the drug has reduced the need for injection services.
Visits to clinics for injection tools and syringes – which the city currently offers for free – have dropped by 60 percent since 2019 the spokesperson said.
‘We’ve seen a shift from injection drug use to smoking drug use, so that we can engage people who may not otherwise engage in services,’ Guernsey said.
Despite the county’s health team swearing that their program has aided the city’s ever-growing drug problem, residents and city leaders remain opposed.
‘This misguided approach also results in greater risk to public safety for those who simply want to enjoy our city without walking through a cloud of toxic smoke,’ said Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler.
‘Our community would benefit more from the County using its funding to urgently increase treatment and sobering facilities rather than actively enabling this deadly epidemic,’ the Democrat continued.
In June, the mayor of the drug-filled city proposed criminalizing public drug use, however, Wheeler later reneged on his statement after a bill criminalizing possession of fentanyl passed through the Oregon Legislature.
HB 2645 would make possession of more than a gram a Class A misdemeanor and punishable by a year-long jail term, a fine of up to $6,250, or both.
Drug users congregate on a Portland, Oregon city street in broad daylight
In a statement following the passage of the bill, Wheeler called his proposal to criminalize drug use ‘no longer necessary.’
‘In consultation with local law enforcement and our City Attorney, we believe that HB 2645 addresses our primary concerns about the public health crisis unfolding on our streets, and it restores necessary law enforcement tools that were envisioned in my own ordinance,’ Wheeler said in a statement.
‘Therefore, it is no longer necessary to pass an ordinance at the local level and I will be withdrawing my proposed ordinance. The City will instead focus on effectively implementing HB 2645,’ the Portland mayor continued.
In a statement to the Willamette Weekly regarding the proposal to hand out drug kits to fentanyl smokers, Wheeler said he could not disagree more strongly.
‘I adamantly oppose distributing paraphernalia to encourage using a drug that is the leading cause of death for Americans under 50 and responsible for 190 fatal overdoses a day in the U.S.,’ Wheeler told the local paper.
In response, Dean retorted that increasing access does not encourage illegal drug use but rather provides those who already partake with safer options.
‘Building relationships with people actively using substances also gives our department more insight into emerging public health issues that impact this population,’ she told KOIN.
‘We are able to directly hear from our clients when there are concerning changes to the drug supply, increased wound issues, or other related issues that are of public health concern,’ Dean continued.
Guernsey agreed saying that she knows ‘some of these methods can be controversial,’ but that she is focused on preventing overdose deaths.
‘I follow the science, and the science tells us that programs like syringe exchange and harm reduction saves lives,’ Guernsey said.
Three quarters of respondents called homelessness in Portland ‘an out-of-control disaster’
Portland residents are more than fed up however as local and state politicians duke it out as recent polls show they want the issues resolved quickly.
In a poll by People for Portland, a conservative advocacy group, more than two-thirds of voters wanted to clear the streets by forcing drug addicts into rehab.
Three-quarters of voters called the city’s homelessness ‘an out-of-control disaster.’
Most respondents also supported Wheeler’s plan to ban homeless daytime camping and people stringing up tents near schools and daycare centers.
In May, the Democrat proposed a daytime camping ban throughout the city and full-time bans around schools and other high-traffic areas.
Wheeler said at the time his eventual goal is to enact a total ban on unsanctioned encampments while setting up several major campsites the city would run.
The ban went into effect on June 30 but officials said it would not be enforced right away after homeless people said they had heard nothing from the city.