Portland Officials Propose To Re-Ban Public Drug Use, Governor To Declare “Fentanyl Emergency”

Portland Officials Propose To Re-Ban Public Drug Use, Governor To Declare “Fentanyl Emergency”
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Portland’s Central City Task Force (PCCTF) has proposed to restore a ban on illicit drug use in public areas as part of the city’s long-term plan to solve its “most pressing challenges.”

The PCCTF was launched in August to address issues like homelessness, public safety, drug use, and crime in Portland after the Oregon Health Authority warned in May that, on average, three residents are dying every day from an unintended drug overdose.

Task force co-chairs Oregon Gov. Tina Kotek and Dan McMillan, president and CEO of The Standard insurance company, recently released the task force’s action plan of ten priority recommendations for 2024, including banning controlled substances and reducing barriers to prosecuting large drug trades.

The task force said that state lawmakers should restore law enforcement’s ability to prosecute for attempting to deliver illicit drugs to another party based on the amount.

More police and increased “law enforcement responses around the Central City” are also suggested.

Portland passed measure 110, the Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act, in November 2020 with 58 percent voter supportAfter becoming law, illicit drugs such as fentanyl, methamphetamine, and heroin were decriminalized, allowing small amounts to be carried for personal use.

The city has since been grappling with increased homelessness and substance abuse, both of which critics contend have been exacerbated by Measure 110 and the decriminalization of hard drugs. Portland City Council voted unanimously on Sept. 6 to ban substances such as fentanyl and heroin from being used in public amid the ongoing opioid and public health crisis.

Authorities in Oregon seized tens of thousands of fentanyl pills in Multnomah County back in August, marking the largest illegal drug bust in county history, according to officials. Upon closer inspection of the seized drugs, authorities found 58,000 individual fentanyl pills and 16 pounds of fentanyl powder. Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, can prove deadly as it is many times more potent than heroin, elevating overdose risk.

Other proposals from the PCCTF to combat the spiraling drug issues facing the city include ramping up existing infrastructure for effective and speedy implementation of a drug public use ban, while also declaring a tri-government fentanyl emergency for Oregon, Multnomah County, and the City of Portland. As part of the proposal, these areas would declare a 90-day emergency on fentanyl and establish a command center led by the state to deal with the ongoing fentanyl crisis.

Gov. Kotek, a Democrat, announced on Dec. 11, after the action plan by the PCCTF was released, that she will declare a statewide fentanyl emergency and expects leaders in both Portland and Multnomah County to do the same, saying that “Times of crisis can lead to a desire for drastic change.”

Between 2020 to 2021, the number of unintentional fentanyl deaths across the state more than doubled from 226 to 508, according to the Oregon Health Authority. Overdoses in the state continued to increase between November 2021 to November 2022, when deaths surpassed the national average by sevenfold, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Ms. Kotek said that confronting the challenges facing the city and the broader state will require “the hope and fortitude of an entire community.”

“We have a set of concrete recommendations, some the first of their kind, others that tap into Portland’s strengths in innovation, collaboration, art, and culture,” she said.

“The reward for a strong start is more work. I am committed to this effort and excited to see this work unfold,” the governor added.

Mr. McMillan also believes solving ongoing issues in the region will require a united effort, an idea that he says the task force has been discussing since day one.

“When the Governor and I convened the task force in late summer, it was under the theory that Portland’s challenges don’t solely rest on the shoulders of government, community, or business and that you need diverse, and sometimes unlikely, partnerships to get big things done,” Mr. McMillan said.

Among the other recommendations by the PCCTF are increasing homeless shelter capacity and deploying more counseling and direct support services for unhoused people. Cosmetic changes are also on the agenda, such as removing plywood barriers and fences erected around federal buildings to protect them from vandalism during the waves of social justice protests that erupted after the in-custody death of George Floyd. Ms. Kotek and McMillan said the use of barriers “sends the wrong signal to visitors.”

A moratorium on new taxes and targeted tax relief has been suggested as well. The PCCTF said that “Portland is the second highest taxed city in the nation; we trail New York City by only a fraction.”

To reduce the tax pressure on residents, the task force is proposing that elected officials agree to a three-year pause, through 2026, on any new taxes and fees.

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