Fentanyl Crisis Escalates: Oregon sees 1,500% surge in overdose rates, highest in nation

EASTERN OREGON – Oregon reaches another alarming milestone in the ongoing fentanyl crisis.

The state’s overdose rate has experienced a staggering increase of 1,500% since before the pandemic, marking the highest surge in the United States. This concerning trend is based on data gathered from the Centers for Disease Control, highlighting the severity of the situation in the state.

The problem isn’t just unique to Oregon, as every state that reported fentanyl deaths saw an increase. But Oregon’s increase of about 1,530% topped the charts, with 1,268 deaths between September 2019 and September 2023.

Oklahoma, with an anticipated 717 deaths last year compared to 67 five years earlier, ranks behind Oregon in terms of the biggest percentage increase from 2019 to 2023. Conversely, states along the East Coast saw some of the lowest increases.

Baker County Chair Shane Alderson says this is a tragic reminder of the fight that Oregon leaders must take seriously, especially in Salem.

“While every overdose death is horrible, I’m concerned about the addict who overdoses two, three or four times and doesn’t get the help he needs because there’s no consequences,” said Alderson. “You’ve got to have a stronger way to compel these people into treatment because just the social hope that people will do it on their own volition isn’t working.

Alderson is referring to the controversial Measure 110, which was passed in 2020 and essentially decriminalized drug possession in the state. State lawmakers are negotiating turning some aspects of the measure back, including repealing key elements.

“One thing they’re discussing is setting up a deflection program, which I’m against,” said Alderson. “It’s going to cost millions of dollars to stand up and it’s another program that is just similar to giving fines, which is happening now and it’s not working.”

Alderson says he’d like to see more drug courts funded and have drug offenders go through court-ordered programs.

“It’s not an instant jail or prison sentence, but until something in your life changes, that’s the road you’re going down,” said Alderson.  “It’s not ignoring the issue until the worst happens, until you’re another statistic that the CDC puts out.”