The Portland Police Bureau says it responded to 11 drug overdoses in nearly as many hours on Friday, highlighting the fatal consequences of the fentanyl flooding Portland’s streets.
All were downtown, many on or around Washington Center at Southwest 4th Avenue and Washington Street, an abandoned block of commercial properties controlled by one of Portland’s top real estate families. The sidewalks surrounding the vacant building are an open-air drug market.
Three people died of suspected overdoses on Friday, the police reported, including a 25-year-old woman on that very block. Police responded to four calls in the space of just 32 minutes after dark that evening.
“Nearly all these overdoses involved opioid narcotics, and we suspect at this time the majority of them were a result of fentanyl usage,” the bureau said. It’s not uncommon for the Police Bureau to highlight a rash of incidents that officers see as significant (and time consuming).
Fentanyl, an opioid like heroin that is sold on the street as both a pill and a powder, is both extremely powerful and extremely cheap. A dose can be purchased for a few bucks.
The result has been a public health catastrophe. Fatal opioid overdoses have skyrocketed in recent years, from 280 in 2019 to 745 in 2021, according to the Oregon Health Authority.
On Saturday afternoon, dozens of people were sitting on the steps, in the alcoves, and under the eves of Washington Center.
Two men and a woman were sitting on the steps facing Washington Street. One of the men was burning a blue pill and some fentanyl powder on a piece of foil with a hand-held torch. The woman, Frankie, said that fentanyl users come to the block because it’s safer to do the drug around other people—and it’s an easy place to find it.
Michael Jones, 42, was standing on the sidewalk along Southwest Harvey Milk Street on the north side of the block. He’d been addicted to opioids since trying them with an ex-girlfriend 18 months ago, and said that overdoses were common.
Bystanders will call 911 and administer CPR, he said, until an ambulance arrives with Narcan, an opioid overdose reversal drug that was recently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to be sold over the counter. “It’s rinse and repeat,” Jones said.
He wishes there was a dedicated safe zone where opioid addicts could get their fix in peace and not be bothered by downtown security guards. “People aren’t out here doing the drug because they want to, but because they need to,” he said.