Fentanyl called ‘greatest threat’ of all drugs in Portland area

Fentanyl is the big buzz word in the world of drugs, addiction, public health, and teen safety.
Published: Apr. 27, 2023 at 8:47 AM PDT
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PORTLAND, Ore. (KPTV) - If you want to get high, it’s never been easier, cheaper, or more dangerous.

“I’ve been doing this job for almost 17 years now; I’ve never seen a drug threat pop like fentanyl has,” said Chris Gibson, the executive director of the Oregon-Idaho High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA).

Fentanyl is the big buzz word in the world of drugs, addiction, public health, and teen safety. In fact, it’s known as the “greatest threat” in our region, according to HIDTA’s 2023 threat assessment report, published last June.

“The overdosing is increasing at the rate that we see drug seizures that are reported,” Gibson added. “They keep going up, which is very concerning.”

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The Oregon-Idaho HIDTA is a program that’s part of a federal grant from the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy. It’s designed to increase information-sharing and success among the local, state and federal agencies tasked with fighting drug trafficking.

Fentanyl is now the main focus.

“We go from 700,000 pills to over 1.5 million pills to almost 3.5 million pills that were seized in 2021,” Gibson said of the Oregon-Idaho HIDTA.

At this point, you’ve probably heard of the synthetic opioid that’s 100 times stronger than morphine – and can lead to accidental overdoses from just a pin-prick of the powder.

You may also know of what’s known as “fentanyl poisoning” - when someone thinks they are taking, say legitimate oxycodone, only to be fooled with a fake pill, and in the worst cases, death.

But, more and more these days, drug users are seeking fentanyl out, specifically, to fuel their high.

“You can smoke it which is what I did - so much easier than having to inject the drug - and it was an easy transition so there was a huge exodus from heroin to fentanyl, with almost everyone I knew,” said Michael Padrta, who is currently eight months sober after spending most of his 48 years on drugs.

Pills or powder – the stuff is everywhere - so how did we get here?

It wasn’t too long ago that the drug of choice for many in Oregon was meth or heroin. The switch says, Gibson, comes down simply to supply and profits.

“Fentanyl is extremely cheap to produce,” Gibson said.

The reality is quite astonishing.

On the streets of Portland, police say you can buy fentanyl pills for roughly $3 each, sometimes even cheaper. Compare that to about $15 for a similar high on meth and maybe $20 to $30 for the equivalent of heroin.

Gibson says fentanyl has been on the black market more regularly in the Pacific Northwest for the past five years.

At first, it was mailed directly to the U.S. from China and Asia. Then, came the rapid increase of fentanyl on the streets a couple years ago, connected to the rise in fentanyl manufacturing in Mexico.

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Gibson said drug cartels buy fentanyl ingredients and chemicals straight from China and India, then make the pills and powders themselves in illegal, makeshift labs.

“When we look at our threat, we’re seeing the western region of Mexico, those California border crossings,” Gibson said.

From California, up the I-5 corridor into Portland and just about everywhere else in the Pacific Northwest, Gibson estimates fentanyl comes into the metro area on an hourly basis each day.

Just how many people die each year in Oregon from fentanyl overdoses isn’t entirely clear, although, according to the Oregon Health Authority, it’s hundreds.