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Deschutes commissioners enact fentanyl state of emergency; all 3 agree on crisis, but Chang abstains, calls order lacking

(Update: adding county news release)

CODE Team's Sgt. Kent Vander Kamp paints grim picture of drug's impact, spike in overdoses

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) – Two Deschutes County commissioners voted Wednesday to declare a 90-day state of emergency due to the addiction and overdose crisis brought on by cheap, powerful and deadly fentanyl causing a spike in addiction and overdose deaths – a drug you can easily order online. But a third abstained, calling the order "premature" and lacking anything new of substance.

Commissioner Patti Adair brought forward the proposed order after Gov. Tina Kotek and Portland-area leaders declared such an emergency last week. Colleague Tony DeBone voted in favor after Central Oregon Drug Enforcement Team Sgt. Kent Vander Kamp painted a frightening picture of the current situation.

Commissioner Phil Chang said he agreed on the serious crisis that needs more attention and addressing in multiple ways. But he abstained on the order, saying it did not bring any new policies, initiatives or resources to the table.

"Typically with an emergency declaration, you deploy additional resources to affect the problem. You identify programs or initiatives to address a problem." Chang told NewsChannel 21 after the meeting. "This emergency declaration basically just named a problem, and raising community awareness is good, but raising community awareness is not in and of itself enough of a reason to do an emergency declaration."

Chang also mentioned it appeared to be “legislative advocacy,” as lawmakers meet in Salem and debate major changes to voter-approved Measure 110, which decriminalized possession of personal amounts of drugs.

The declaration will not necessarily bring about more resources to Deschutes County. Instead, its purpose is to spread public awareness and attract the attention of lawmakers in Salem.

Adair told us, "The main goal was to give a message to our legislature. Measure 110 has just been one unintended consequence after the other, and I'm just hoping this helps."

Adair and DeBone attended a Salem meeting of county leaders on Monday. As a result, Adair said they “need to be advocates” for Republicans’ call for making fentanyl possession a Class A misdemeanor, to get more facing addiction to seek treatment, rather than the lesser Class C misdemeanor proposed by Democrats in their package of proposed Measure 110 fixes.

“We lost seven Deschutes County residents last month” to fentanyl overdoses, Adair noted. “Babies are being born with fentanyl in their systems in our hospital. It is an emergency, and I do believe this declaration is pointing out what’s happening in our state.”

Commissioners also mentioned that Redmond Mayor Ed Fitch and the entire City Council sent a letter Tuesday night, declaring their support for the state of emergency declaration.

Adair said she’d also learned of an overdose death in Sisters two days ago: “I just think something has to happen.”

Chang told Adair, “Everything you just said is very important. It could just as easily be put into a proclamation as an emergency declaration.”

“Following the lead of our governor,” Adair said. “It’s an emergency.”

Chang said the governor and Portland leaders “identified and formalized new resources” as part of their move: “We have not done that.” If that were done, he said, “then we could roll out an emergency declaration that does more than naming the problem.”

Adair replied, “With all due respect, we are losing young people. They are dying of drugs. A lot of people are unaware of the seriousness of this situation.”

Vander Kamp pointed out that drug overdoses, primarily fentanyl, have become the leading cause of death for 18 to 49-year-olds. And he said Bend “had three nearly simultaneous overdose emergencies” Tuesday night, involving people who did not intentionally take fentanyl but it was laced in the drugs they took.  “I’d call it an overdose, but it’s really a poisoning, too,” he said.

“It has become the modern-day version of Russian roulette,” he said. “They are risking their lives every time they take a pill,” which cartels are now taking to selling on social media. Those who become addicted “will steal and rob and do anything to get their next pill,” fueling other crimes, Vander Kamp said.

Asked by Chang what he’d suggest the county do they are not already doing, or to do more of, Vander Kamp said key is “delivering a message, getting that word out there that what you think is a pharmaceutical pill is not. … Buying pills on the internet is not safe.”

He also said, “I would always love to have more investigators and more detectives, bringing more people into code and having them support our mission is ideal” and noted that CODE helps Jefferson and Crook counties as well.

When it came time to vote, DeBone called the state of emergency declaration “the right place to be ... It’s here and it’s happening.”

 Adair also pointed to the dangers of the horse tranquilizer, “tranq,” which Narcan can’t reverse overdoses of.

Chang restated: “We are absolutely having a crisis. … but I do not think that this declaration is mature yet,” and there are other ways, like this session, to raise community awareness, and to advocate legislative action.

“I believe it is premature at this point,” he said. “I will be abstaining until I see a more mature proposal.”

After the vote, Adair said online ordering is “a new worry” and “parents need to be aware of packages coming to their house.”

Chang repeated: “I’m not saying we’re not having a crisis. I’m saying, what are we doing about it, besides talking?” Adair noted that billboards were put up, and urged more attention be paid to the Ideal Options facilities in Bend and Redmond, “if you think you know someone who needs help – and our Health department, too.”

The county issued a news release Thursday morning on the board's decision and state of emergency:

Deschutes County Commission declares state of emergency to address fentanyl crisis 
The Deschutes County commissioners have voted to declare a 90-day state of emergency to address Central Oregon’s growing fentanyl crisis. The Board issued an emergency order on Wednesday, recognizing the growing threat to public health. Commissioner Phil Chang abstained from the vote, stating he thought it was not fully developed yet.
“We have fentanyl everywhere and our young people are dying,” said Patti Adair, Deschutes County Commission Chair. “We need to solve this problem.”
Overdose deaths increased by 100% between 2018 (six deaths) and 2022 (twelve deaths) in Deschutes County. In early January, Deschutes County Health Services identified four overdose fatalities within a six-day period that appeared to be linked to the use of fentanyl and in combination with other substances.
Despite these local increases, overdose fatalities in Deschutes County remain lower than statewide averages.  Fentanyl is up to 50 times stronger than heroin and about 100 times stronger than morphine as a pain reliever, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“Now is the time for action. We’re experiencing a crisis and need the community to understand how dangerous this is,” said Deschutes County Commissioner Tony DeBone. “We need the community to come together and look out for one another. This is getting worse every day.” 
“We are absolutely having a crisis,” said County Commissioner Phil Chang. “However, I am abstaining from today’s vote because I don’t think our next steps have been fully developed. I want to better understand what actions the County is prepared to take.” 
In 2023, the County created an Opioid Overdose Response Team, which together with community partners, is deploying enhanced prevention resources, education and awareness and other direct services to the tri-County region.
Deschutes County Health Services distributes and provides training for Naloxone, a medication that can reverse an overdose from opioids, including fentanyl, when given in time. 
In 2022, more than 100 lives in Deschutes County were saved by residents who administered Naloxone to someone experiencing overdose. More than 95 percent of those resident bystanders (including friends, family members and strangers) provided either rescue breathing or CPR as part of their response to an overdose. 
Deschutes County Health Services encourages everyone to be aware of the signs of overdose.  For more information, please visit 

Earlier story:

Oregon Gov. Tina Kotek joined city of Portland and Multnomah County leaders last week in the joint declaration of a state of emergency to address the impacts of the fentanyl crisis in downtown Portland.

“As the dramatic negative impacts of fentanyl distribution and use exist across the state, the Board of County Commissioners will consider declaring a local State of Emergency regarding the significant public health and safety crisis arising from the presence and effects of fentanyl in Deschutes County,” Wednesday’s agenda item stated.

Adair told NewsChannel 21 Friday she’d sent the governor a text message and “told her it should be statewide,” since the same issues are affecting the entire state.

Adair noted that county health officials had expressed public concern over four fatal fentanyl overdoses in a six-day period in early January, and “the Health Department says it’ll only get worse.”

Adair said she heard from Bend City Councilor and Mayor Pro Tem Megan Perkins, who serves on the Homeless Leadership Council Board with Adair, and who agreed the emergency is a statewide issue.

Perkins told NewsChannel 21 Friday: "I am in full support of the county declaring a state of emergency on fentanyl."

"The number of deaths and overdoses is skyrocketing in Deschutes County," Perkins said. "Anything the county, our public health entity, can do to cut any red tape and move with expediency will help save lives.

"I would also encourage the governor to consider a state of emergency for Oregon, so that we can marshal even more resources to fight this terrible drug that is causing so much pain and suffering in our state," she added.

DeBone and Adair attended the Association of Oregon Counties Legislative meeting in Salem on Monday for the start of the Oregon Legislature's 35-day "short" session to talk with lawmakers about the changes being sought to Measure 110, which decriminalized hard drugs.

Article Topic Follows: Deschutes County

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Matthew Draxton

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