Calls to emergency medical services in Multnomah County about non-fatal drug overdoses tripled from their typical average over one week in late July.
The Multnomah County Health Department tells WW that it “started seeing signs of possibly increasing numbers of non-fatal overdoses two weeks ago when the number of EMS responses to overdose tripled the week ending July 24, coinciding with multiple community reports of overdoses involving counterfeit pills and the seizure of 105,000 counterfeit pills believed to contain fentanyl by area law enforcement.”
And though that spike has abated, county spokesperson Kate Yeiser adds that the overdoses “remain at the very high end of what we might typically see.”
A few trends have emerged, according to Yeiser: First, a majority of the overdoses occurred when people took heroin or counterfeit pills, most often counterfeit oxycodone. The overdoses included all types of ingestion.
“We can’t say for certain whether fentanyl was involved with many of these, but counterfeit pills in the area nearly always contain fentanyl,” Yeiser said.
A spokesperson for the Portland Police Bureau, Lt. Greg Pashley, tells WW that the Police Bureau’s High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Interdiction Task Force “culminated three separate cases that resulted in the seizure of 125,000 counterfeit oxy ‘M30′ pills” in a span of three weeks in July.
The pills were found to contain fentanyl during testing by the Oregon State Police’s crime lab.
“While I can’t quantify this, yes, investigators say there is a lot more of this in the last year or so,” Pashley said.
And where the majority of the deaths occur points to a potential trend.
Many of those overdoses happened along the I-205 corridor, downtown and in the Central Eastside. That’s where many of Portland’s largest homeless camps are located. The overdoses largely occurred outside, and not in the privacy of homes: “A large number of overdoses occurred outdoors in public or semi-public areas (camps, parking lots, sidewalks),” Yeiser said.