Overdose numbers continue to grow in Portland, first responders hope for change

Portland’s drug crisis is hitting a new level, and the city’s first responders are seeing it firsthand.
Published: Sep. 28, 2023 at 6:23 PM PDT
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PORTLAND Ore. (KPTV) - Portland’s drug crisis is hitting a new level, and the city’s first responders are seeing it firsthand.

According to the Portland Police Bureau, the number of overdose calls has already set a new record, including the number of children overdosing on fentanyl. Within the last three months, 10 overdose victims were all under the age of 18. 

See Also: Portland firefighters responding to high amounts of OD calls

Most of those 10 were children five years old and younger. Out of the 10 victims, five did not survive.

Portland Police Officer Jake Jensen oversees the narcotics and the organized crime unit. He’s watched the city’s drug crisis unfold in real-time and now it’s impacting young Portlanders.

“It’s never easy to see a dead person in general,” Jensen said. “But especially a dead kid who has so much potential that’s now just gone and evaporated. So it definitely takes a toll.”

The most recent overdose death was a sophomore at Jefferson High School. The details around the overdose are not clear at this time, Jensen said one child overdosing and dying from fentanyl is one too many. As a parent, he has empathy for how children are being impacted by the drug crisis.

“This is a 12-year-old riding their bike the day before or a five-year-old who’s excited about her first day of kindergarten.,” Jensen said. “Now their lives have been drastically altered or ended due to fentanyl.”

When it comes to Portland’s firefighters, they too are watching the crisis unfold before their eyes. Portland City Commissioner Rene Gonzalez oversees the Fire Bureau.

“Our city is in crisis,” Gonzalez said. “Earlier this year and late last year we were deeply concerned about meth. This fentanyl drug is leading to an incredible amount of overdoses.”

He said that firefighters sometimes respond to the same individual overdosing multiple times. Reviving the same person from death can take a toll on their mental health he added. Despite feeling like they are fighting a losing battle, Gonzalez said firefighters are still able to focus on what matters most.

“Their job is to save lives. They step up every single day to do it. They do the duty they’ve been asked to do. They’re team players, they’re responders, and they embrace that responsibility. But it’s eroding the system and it has a human cost.”

See Also: 15-month-old baby overdoses in Portland, commissioner says

This week Oregon Gov. Tina Kotek announced a new statewide fentanyl strategic enforcement and distribution strategy. Oregon State Police will help local agencies, like Portland Police, enforce drug laws. Both Officer Jensen and Commissioner Gonzalez welcome the governor’s help. But Gonzalez wants a public health emergency to be declared for the drug crisis.

“Portlanders are tired, they’re fed up,” Gonzalez said. “They want their city back.”