Portland used to be known as one of the most desirable places to live in the United States. But in recent years, the city has been struggling with widespread fentanyl use on its streets, which has led to an increase in homeless encampments and crime.

As many other American cities have rebounded from the pandemic, the fentanyl crisis has hampered the city’s recovery.

Several key retailers, such as REI, have closed stores in Portland, while hundreds of people continue to die from fentanyl overdoses every year, often in tents or on sidewalks.

The emergency declaration is part of a broader plan announced late last year by Oregon’s governor, Tina Kotek, to curb public drug use and crime in Portland and re-establish a sense of security for workers and visitors.

In an executive order on Tuesday, Gov. Kotek cited the “economic and reputational harm” that the fentanyl problem was inflicting on Portland and the state.

“Our country and our state have never seen a drug this deadly addictive, and all are grappling with how to respond,” the governor said in a statement.

The emergency declaration tries to address a frequent criticism among Oregon taxpayers: Millions of dollars are being spent on homelessness and addiction problems, but the resources are not always reaching people effectively.

State officials said a “command center” would be set up in central Portland, where various agencies from the state, city and county would coordinate their responses to the fentanyl problem. The command center is also designed to collect and analyze data and identify any “gaps” in the government’s response.

Many cities are struggling with the fallout from fentanyl. In Oregon, the problem was accelerated by a law voters passed in 2020 that decriminalized the use of so-called hard drugs, including methamphetamine and fentanyl, and not just marijuana, which was already legal in Oregon and many other states. At the time of its passage, Measure 110 was celebrated as a first-in-the-nation law, an attempt to recognize drug addiction as a health problem, not a crime.


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