News for those who live, work and play in the Santiam Canyon

Fentanyl overdose deaths on the rise

In late September a Silverton father got a call he hoped he would never get, that his 16-year-old daughter had just overdosed on fentanyl and was being rushed to the hospital.

“I didn’t expect it to be her,” the father – who asked to remain anonymous – said of his reaction. His daughter – who has since recovered – had been sold the dangerous drug in her own hometown. 

“I think the community should know there’s a problem,” he added.

And fentanyl is a problem in Oregon, according to Sergeant Eric Strohmeyer – a member of the Portland Police Bureau’s Narcotics and Organized Crime High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) and Addiction Task Force for the past 8 years.

“For Portland my team gets notified on every drug overdose and last year we broke our record at 156. I would say 75 percent were fentanyl,” Strohmeyer said. “Right now, we’re at 260 and I would say 90 percent is fentanyl. So, from my perspective, that it is dangerous, is extremely true.”

Relatively stable in pill form, Strohmeyer said the real risk to those who are not actively engaging in its use is when it is in its powdered form.

“Powdered fentanyl is a big deal,” Strohmeyer confirmed. “All it needs is for a bit of wind to kick up and you ingest it. We have very specific processes just to test the powder because it can become airborne so easily. It’s the universal precautions…wear gloves and a Kn95 mask.”

If an overdose is suspected, Strohmeyer advises immediately seeking emergency services that carry NARCAN – the name brand of the most common medication used to combat an opioid overdose by blocking the receptors in the brain.

“If there is a suspected overdose of any type, call 911,” Tom Barber,  a deputy with the Marion County Sheriff’s Office assigned to Sublimity, agreed. “Sublimity is covered by the Sublimity Fire Department and medics from Santiam Hospital. Police will come too, but getting medics started is first and foremost.”

Thus far those calls have been relatively uncommon.

“I only know of a couple in the past six years,” Barber said.

While he does not have access to the current statistical data reporting fentanyl usage in the area, he did say that among students in the North Santiam School District it is low. 

He advises parents who are worried about potential drug use, “As in any part of a child’s life, the parents need to be active in their kids’ lives. Always be open to them about all aspects of life and have a good working relationship with them.”

Additionally, Strohmeyer suggests monitoring phone use and social media accounts like Instagram and Snapchat – where the Portland Police see the majority of drug sales taking place.

“The dealers are not hiding a thing,” he said. “They may be using slang, but that’s the biggest thing.”

If parents are aware that drugs are an issue for their child, Strohmeyer suggests stocking NARCAN nasal spray at home. Because, while law enforcement in Sublimity is observing very little fentanyl use among youth, Portland’s numbers are climbing – from seven teenaged overdose deaths between the years 2020 and 2022 to nine reported deaths in just the past four months.

“We’ve seen the biggest jump in juvenile deaths,” Strohmeyer confirmed. He added that, while the reported numbers already show an alarming increase, the actual number of children hospitalized due to fentanyl overdose may be even higher owing to a lag in reporting by area hospitals.

“It’s so cheap,” Strohmeyer said, naming the main reason fentanyl has become such a widely available drug. 

“Fentanyl is really the one drug I’ve seen that knows no socioeconomic boundaries.”

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