Oregon Gov. Kotek Directs State Police to Crack Down on Fentanyl

Wim De Gent
By Wim De Gent
September 28, 2023US News
Oregon Gov. Kotek Directs State Police to Crack Down on Fentanyl
Bags containing approximately 58,000 fentanyl pills were seized in Multnomah County, Oregon, on July 25, 2023. (Courtesy of Multnomah County Sheriff's Office)

Oregon Governor Tina Kotek said Tuesday she has directed state police to launch new strategies aimed at disrupting the fentanyl supply chain, and at holding sellers of the deadly drug accountable.

“I want all Oregonians to know that the state is moving forward with several new fentanyl strategic enforcement and disruption strategies,” Ms. Kotek said in a statement.

The “Strategic Enforcement and Disruptive Initiative” will see state troopers teaming up with Portland police to stop fentanyl trafficking, with troopers policing key highways while also addressing rampant open-air drug dealing.

State police staff will be reallocated to help local drug enforcement teams track dealers and to assist local police with prosecutions, as well as to lead interagency patrols focused on intercepting fentanyl using drug dogs and detectives.

“We want to make it uncomfortable for people to be selling fentanyl in the central city,” Ms. Kotek said in a Tuesday press briefing. “There will be more people watching, more detective work, more ability to see where things are getting sold and going after those folks.”

The initiative also teams up with the Oregon Department of Justice to train local police agencies on how to “avoid unlawful searches and address potential biases” during operations.

The governor further mentioned that a pilot project using a data-driven approach to identifying drug- and alcohol-impaired drivers would also be extended.

Ms. Kotek did not provide details about the number of state police personnel that would be assigned to patrol Portland. But with Oregon State Police already seriously understaffed—i.e., with fewer than 500 troopers to patrol the entire state—manpower may remain an issue of concern.

Last month, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler offered a list of requests for state assistance that included assigning 96 state troopers to Portland to combat the fentanyl crisis.

Ms. Kotek said it was not possible to send nearly 100 troopers to the city, but suggested that she was considering an increase.

So far this year, the Oregon State Patrol has seized nearly 233,000 fentanyl pills and 62 pounds of powder, the governor’s statement further said.

“As we work to cut the supply of fentanyl and hold dealers accountable for selling dangerous drugs, I also remain fully committed to expanding access to critical behavioral health services,” Ms. Kotek said, but without expanding further.

Just last week, Portland Police Association president Aaron Schmautz criticized “Measure 110,” a voter-approved program that decriminalizes low-level drug possession and expands services for people with drug addiction.

“Measure 110 was just a complete mistake,” Mr. Schmautz told local TV station KOIN 6. “It has led to significant amounts of increase in drug use, in drug dependency.”

Oregon Health & Science University head of addiction medicine Dr. Todd Korthuis and Keith Humphreys, a psychology professor at Stanford University, told lawmakers that the focus should be on pushing people toward treatment while ending the easy availability of drugs on the street.

Both suggested stepping up police enforcement.

Last week, The Oregon Health Authority allocated $302 million to various services such as outreach, peer mentors, recovery housing, and needle exchanges, bringing total state expenditure on the drug epidemic so far up to $845 million.

An additional problem caused by the drug epidemic, however, is rampant retail crime. On Tuesday, Target announced it would close three of its stores in Portland—including one downtown.

“I am sorry to see stores like Target moving out of central city,” Ms. Kotek said. “But you know what? We’re going to create a place where people want to come back and have their businesses, so maybe they’ll come back. We’d like them back.”

A synthetic opioid, fentanyl is the leading cause of death for Americans aged 18 to 49. More than 100,000 deaths a year in the United States have been tied to drug overdoses since 2020, and about two-thirds of those are related to fentanyl.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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