Sunday, April 14, 2024

A big city on the West Coast is facing a serious problem with fentanyl. Dealing with this issue is quite a tough task, as they try to figure out how to tackle the problem

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Riding his bike in a big city on the West Coast, Officer Donny Mathew saw something unusual. He noticed a shiny reflection coming from a piece of aluminum foil in someone’s hand on the sidewalk.

Mathew realized the person was using the foil to cook something. He knew it was a strong and highly addictive synthetic drug that has caused a lot of harm in Portland, Oregon, and many other places in the United States. This drug has led to severe addiction and even death in various communities.

But there’s more to the story. Mathew also gave him a card with a phone number. It can help him get rid of the new fine and tackle the drug problem on the streets, especially with the opioid crisis going on across the country.

“If they call this hotline, they can pay off the citation,” the officer said. But here’s the catch – they have to agree to a medical check with substance abuse experts on the call. This check can be a key step to getting help for addiction in the long run.

This plan is in action because the mayor, county leader, and governor, who are all Democrats, declared a state of emergency in January. They want to deal with the health and safety issues caused by fentanyl in Portland’s Central City.

In addition, lawmakers in the state voted overwhelmingly this week to change a 2020 law. This law had made it okay to have hard drugs, like fentanyl. Now, it’s waiting for the governor’s approval to be reversed.

Gov. Tina Kotek shared concerns about a dangerous and addictive drug affecting our state. In January, she declared a fentanyl emergency in Portland, promising teamwork and focused efforts for a plan of action.

So far, more drug dealers are getting caught, the fire department set up a team for quick overdose response, and outreach workers are targeting problem areas to link people with treatment and housing services. This was revealed by Mike Myers, the director of the city’s Community Safety Division, during a recent news conference.

The emergency plan also includes public health campaigns and using data to find and address urgent needs and service gaps. Officials aim to fill these gaps quickly, not just during the three-month emergency but also afterward.

This challenge is significant due to fentanyl being extremely potent (up to 100 times more than morphine) and inexpensive to produce and mix with other illegal substances.

Portland Police Chief Bob Day mentioned, “This bad habit is serious, not like saying, ‘Just find a job’ or ‘Just seek help.’ There are inner struggles I can’t grasp.”

The urgent goal is like a race against a dangerous enemy, as per the leader of the outreach and treatment group Central City Concern. Dr. Andy Mendenhall emphasized, “Fentanyl is cheap and really risky. It’s everywhere.”

Under Measure 110, a law from 2020 supported by the public, health workers, outreach teams, and police are working together. This law believes that dealing with addiction and overdose as a health issue is better, kinder, and more affordable than using criminal punishments.

“Here’s the thing: in Oregon, they treat drugs like a regular traffic ticket,” shared Officer David Baer from Portland police, talking to CNN.

But the problem is, opioid overdose deaths in Oregon are going up a lot. In 2019, there were 280 deaths, and now in 2022, it’s shot up to 956. Last year alone, there were 628 deaths. Rachael Banks, the Health Director for Multnomah County, said, “It’s really dangerous right now.”

Across the whole country, the number of people dying from drug overdoses with fentanyl has gone up a lot in the last five years until 2021, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Even though some early research in JAMA Psychiatry didn’t find a connection between Measure 110 and the increase in deaths in Oregon, some people still blame the law.

State Rep. Jeff Helfrich, a Republican, doesn’t like Measure 110. He thinks it’s a total disaster. He says, “Look at what’s happening: there’s fentanyl and drugs everywhere on the streets.”

The governor didn’t want to criticize after the fact about the drug issue in downtown Portland. Mayor Ted Wheeler mentioned they’ve been trying to deal with it. However, the people trying to tackle the fentanyl problem say it’s really tough because the drug is super addictive.

According to Dave Crosby, who used to be homeless and addicted, even if you care about your family and friends and want to be a good member of society, all you can think about is the next time you can use the drug.

Mendenhall, who helps more than 3,000 people each year, says that fentanyl’s strength makes the fight against it much harder. The first thing needed, according to a doctor, is housing.

People who use fentanyl are often told to take responsibility and fix their problems. But it’s not that easy, according to Mendenhall. There are many reasons why someone might start using substances, like being stuck in poverty, losing a job, or dealing with mental health issues like depression and anxiety.

Mendenhall explained that these folks first need a place to live to get stable. Only then can they start benefiting from treatment. But right now, there just aren’t enough resources for those looking to get help and recover.

Some people think fentanyl users can just take control and fix their problems, but it’s not that easy. Many factors, like being stuck in poverty, losing jobs, dealing with mental issues, or feeling depressed and anxious, can lead to using substances. The first step is getting a stable place to stay, but there aren’t enough resources for those looking for help.

In Portland, an emergency declaration helps different agencies work together to figure out what resources are lacking and how to fill those gaps. They plan to raise awareness about how addictive fentanyl is, make overdose reversal agents more available, and improve access to treatment and recovery services. The goal is to coordinate efforts among non-profits that offer housing and addiction help.

When Portland police encountered a man with fentanyl, they didn’t just give him a ticket; they also offered him a chance at treatment. Another person using the drug got a citation and a treatment card. Chelan, a woman who struggled with fentanyl, shared her story, highlighting that these users are real people facing tough situations.

Locking up folks struggling with stopping drug use isn’t the solution, she said. “Sending people to jail doesn’t help anyone,” she said. “It’s like a group of criminals gathering to discuss how to commit crimes better. If you weren’t upset before jail, you will be after.”

Getting help is tough too: “People don’t know where to go or who to call for help,” Chelan said. “There are treatment places, but they’re all busy right now.”

While Portland’s emergency efforts focus on providing real assistance, it’s crucial not to forget the human side, according to Crosby from Central City Concern.

“That’s someone’s child, that’s someone’s parent,” he said. “Until we see it as people – human beings who need help – and work together, systemic change won’t happen.”

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