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Oregon State Police/Contributed photo

Fentanyl bill makes local law enforcement happier but not hopeful

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By Nino Paoli

Published on 8/11/23

LA GRANDE — A new state law cracking down on fentanyl possession is a step in the right direction, but it’s not enough, Union County law enforcement officials agree.

House Bill 2645, outlawing the possession of fentanyl, is a response to ballot Measure 110, which sought to rectify the drug crisis in Oregon through decriminalization and a focus on treatment. Now, fentanyl is the most frequent drug involved in overdose deaths in the state and many law enforcement officials say Measure 110 is to blame. HB 2645 hopes to change this, but local law enforcement and prosecutors aren’t holding their breath.

Possession of one gram or more, or five user units (pills) or more, of fentanyl is now a Class A misdemeanor under state law.

House Bill 2645, which passed on Thursday, July 27, closes a loophole in Measure 110, where $100 fentanyl possession citations were easily waived by violators who could, for example, call a drug treatment hotline but didn’t have to enroll in a treatment program, officials such as Union County District Attorney Kelsie McDaniel said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, fentanyl has become more popular in the past couple of years because of its heroin-like effect. It is extremely potent and often added to other drugs to lower dealers’ manufacturing costs. It is highly addictive, and when buying illicit substances people may not even be aware that the drugs are laced with fentanyl, which has contributed to a surge in accidental overdoses.

 

McDaniel said that even though Measure 110 decriminalized certain amounts of controlled substances, it still set misdemeanors for Schedule II drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine. However, no misdemeanor level was set for fentanyl.

“So you’d either have a violation amount or a felony amount, nothing in between,” McDaniel said. “A substantial amount of fentanyl was just a violation amount because it wasn’t enough to jump to a felony.”

McDaniel said that fentanyl is a “huge issue” in La Grande, and that even though possession of smaller amounts of the drug is criminalized again, she believes fentanyl users will find a way around the new law just as they did by not paying their violation fines.

According to the La Grande Police Department, the annual calls for service to 911 dispatch for drug overdoses increased by 480%, from 10 calls in 2020 — when Measure 110 was passed — to 58 in 2022. As of Aug. 2, 28 calls for service regarding overdoses have been received this year by LGPD’s dispatch center.

Chief of Police Gary Bell, Lt. Jason Hays and McDaniel all said the increase in drug overdoses in the area quantified by 911 dispatch calls for service don’t tell the whole story, though.

Read the full article on The Observer's website here.

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