Any way you look at it, the State of Oregon has a major problem with substance abuse. In both 2012 and 2013 – the latest data available – Oregon ranked fourth in the United States for the rates of past-month illicit drug use by state citizens 12 years old and up. In fact, when the age group is adjusted to 26 and older, Oregon ranks #3.
According to the Oregon High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) Program’s 2016 Threat Assessment and Counter-Drug Strategy, one of the state’s biggest threats comes from heroin.
Heroin Statistics in the State of Oregon
By analyzing the data released by the HIDTA program, it is easy to see why heroin presents such a problem in Oregon:
- In both 2013 and 2014, 111 Oregonians died due to fatal heroin overdoses – 222 total lives.
- 49% of heroin deaths in Oregon in 2014 occurred in Multnomah County.
- The HIDTA Program believes that heroin availability and use has reached a “critical level” and now is virtually even with cocaine as Oregon’s biggest drug threat.
- In 2015, 24% of law enforcement officials in Oregon and in neighboring Idaho say that heroin is the principal threat in their area, because of several reasons:
- the number of new users
- the number of younger users
- the number of associated overdoses
- 75% of law enforcement officers say that a “high level of heroin” is available in their area
- Over half of all law enforcement officers surveyed report an increase in heroin availability, especially in the following counties:
- In 2014, there were 133 pounds of heroin seized by the Oregon HIDTA Task Force.
- This number is nine times higher than the amount seized in 2007.
- There were over 450 separate seizures of heroin in Oregon in 2014.
- In 2008, there were only about 50.
- Since 2009, heroin-related arrests in Oregon increased fourfold.
- 2008-2014, arrests for heroin possession rose by over 300%.
- Possession reflects about 75% of all heroin-related arrests in Oregon.
- In 2008, the number of prisoners who admitted to regular heroin use at intake to the Oregon Corrections System was 248.
- By 2014, that number had increased more than threefold, to 751.
- Likewise, in 2008, the number of prison admissions for heroin-related felonies was 72.
- But, by 2014, that number had increased to 226.
- In 2008, the number of Oregon adults checking into publicly-funded heroin treatment was 3376.
- In 2014, that number had grown to 5245 – an increase of 55%.
- Taking only the HIDTA region into account, heroin abuse was responsible for the highest number of treatment admissions in 2014.
- The Oregon counties with the highest increase in heroin admissions per capita 2009-2013 were:
- Union (+1135%)
- Yamhill (+788%)
- Coos (+477%)
- Douglas (+427%)
- 2009-2013, heroin admissions in urban areas rose by 35%.
- During the same time period, heroin admissions in rural areas skyrocketed almost 200%.
- The 111 heroin-related deaths in Oregon in 2014 is down from 2012’s 147. This is because in July 2013, Oregon state law was changed to allow wider access to the emergency anti-overdose drug naloxone.
- Now ANYONE who has completed training can administer naloxone in an emergency situation.
- The law change has had an immediate effect:
- In 2014, Multnomah County Health Department listed 1160 needle exchange clients who were trained and who subsequently received emergency naloxone kits.
- As of mid-October, 2014, 481 successful overdose reversals have been performed.
- 73% of the reversals were performed on friends.
- 15% were performed on total strangers.
- 8% were performed on self.
- 3% were performed on family members.
- Since the naloxone law went into effect, heroin deaths in Multnomah County have fallen by 41%.
- In 2013, a study discovered that the heroin use incidence rate is 19 times higher among people report prior non-medical use of prescription opioids. Oregon ranked #2 in the US in both 2012 and 2013 for rates of non-medical past-year use of prescription pain relievers.
- Among heroin users participating in a needle exchange program in Multnomah County, 45% report being addicted to prescription opioids before their first heroin use.
Where Is All of the Heroin in Oregon Coming from?
Afghanistan supplies most of the world’s heroin, but Mexico supplies majority of heroin that enters the United States. Since 2000, opium poppy cultivation in Mexico has increased significantly, for several reasons:
- FIRST – As part of Mexico’s “war on organized crime”, Mexican soldiers are now engaged in urban peacekeeping, rather than poppy eradication.
- SECOND – Marijuana’s increasingly-legal status in the United States has greatly decreased the demand for Mexican-grown cannabis. In an attempt to make up their losses, drug cartels have begun growing opium poppies, rather than cannabis.
Heroin seizures along the Southwest Border approached 2300 kg per year, 2012-2014. In 2007, heroin seizures along the border were less than 500 kg.
- THIRD, Most drug smuggling in Oregon occurs via the highway system:
- Interstate 5 runs is one of eight major US drug trafficking corridors, running from Tijuana, Mexico, through most of Oregon’s major cities, seven of the twelve HIDTA counties – Washington, Multnomah, Marion, Lane, Jackson, Douglas, and Clackamas – up to Vancouver, British Columbia.
- Highway 97 is a widely-used drug trafficking route, running through Deschutes County and providing direct access to Canada, the Yakima Valley area, Central Washington, and California.
- Highway 395 provides an alternate route to California, through Umatilla County.
- US Coastal Highway 101 runs through Lane and Douglas counties.
- US Route 95 runs through Idaho’s Canyon and Ada Counties, into Oregon’s Malheur County.
- Interstate 84 begins in Portland and runs through Multnomah, Umatilla, and Malheur Counties, granting trafficking access to Portland, Boise, and Seattle.
- Highways 20 & 26 are alternate to Interstate 84, running from the Oregon Coast, through central Oregon, and finally, into Idaho.
Who Is Using Heroin in Oregon?
The increased availability of heroin in Oregon has driven the price down, and the combination of availability and affordability encourages more substance abusers to experiment – thereby increasing the potential for addiction. What once was a problem only in the Portland area has spread throughout the HIDTA region.
Overall, heroin use in Oregon is highest among:
- Males 21-29, living in urban areas
- Heroin use is skewing younger – in 2002, most heroin users in Oregon were between the ages of 35 and 49
- By 2012, most heroin addicts in Oregon were between 21 and 29, accounting for approximately 47% of users.
- 2008-2012, the unintentional heroin overdose death rate was highest among males 25-34 years old.
- During that same time period, heroin death rates among Caucasian, Native American, and African-American males were virtually identical.
What Do All of These Statistics about Heroin Use in Oregon Tell Us?
Even a cursory review of the statistics tells us that there is a MAJOR heroin problem in Oregon. It is available everywhere, people are initiating use and increasingly-younger ages, and the death rate from overdoses is much higher than it was even just a few years ago.
This means that it is more important than ever that timely intervention and treatment programs are both made available and used in the tide of the opioid epidemic is to turn.