Fentanyl emergency update: Multnomah County Commissioners slam billboard campaign as ‘tone deaf’

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Multnomah County leaders are not pleased with the progress by the tri-government unified command charged with addressing Portland’s declared fentanyl crisis.

Last week county commissioners criticized the unified command for lacking substance when sharing their progress. The latest update this week is no different.

“It just struck me as so out of touch,” said Commissioner Sharon Meieran.

It’s been nearly 50 days since the State of Oregon, the City of Portland, and Multnomah County collectively declared a 90-day emergency for fentanyl in central Portland.

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“It’s good to have a campaign to encourage people to get treatment and go into recovery. But if we don’t have a plan to actually let people actually be able to access treatment, we’re really missing a key piece,” said Commissioner Julia Brim-Edwards.

On Thursday, county leaders were presented an update from the tri-government unified command on the fentanyl crisis. However, many commissioners failed to be impressed by the update.

“I feel like there is not a sense of urgency to any of what is being talked about,” Meieran said.

The update included information about a new billboard campaign aimed at destigmatizing people suffering from addiction and to “inspire hope and direct resources to our partners like Alliance for Life and Recovery Network of Oregon so folks can find the support they need,” said Diego Basabe, the communications and marketing team manager for the Multnomah County Health Department.

Some commissioners said they found even this tactic out of touch.

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“The idea that those are up there without highlighting anything about the emergency of the crisis is — I don’t understand that,” Meieran said.

One billboard in particular showing people going camping shocked commissioners.

“The first thing that struck me about it was how tone deaf this was in terms of what’s happening on our streets right now and the messaging around camping,” Meieran said.

A camping-themed billboard is part of a Multnomah County campaign to aid people seeking recovery from drug addiction. March 21, 2024 (courtesy Multnomah County Health Department).
A camping-themed billboard is part of a Multnomah County campaign to aid people seeking recovery from drug addiction. March 21, 2024 (courtesy Multnomah County Health Department).

The camping-themed billboard is not going up right away and Basabe said he spoke with people in recovery while creating it.

“That one was informed by lived experience and living experience,” Basabe said.

Commissioners were also concerned that the supply chain of the drug was not addressed in the presentation.

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“If we don’t address that, we don’t talk about it, then we’re never going to get a hold on the demand side of the equation,” Meieran said.

Commissioner Brim-Edwards said it’s good to have a campaign to encourage people to get treatment but that it’s simply not enough during an emergency, in her view.

“What I really want to see is some very concrete actions, which is a plan that will ensure that we have the adequate treatment beds for people who seek and want treatment because we know we don’t have that,” she said.

One action that was applauded by commissioners is an overdose data dashboard which will provide information on fatal overdoses and non-fatal overdose responses and will be updated weekly.

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