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Child deaths among Ore. city’s spike in ODs

Five Portland children have died due to suspected fentanyl exposure since June

By Catalina Gaitán

PORTLAND, Ore. — Nine children in Portland have overdosed – five fatally – on what investigators suspect was fentanyl since mid-June, police said Thursday.

The victims in the fatal overdoses include a 1-year-old, a 2-year-old and a 5-year-old.

Also among those who died was a 15-year-old girl. Portland Public Schools provided a message Tuesday signed by Jefferson High School Principal Drake Shelton announcing sophomore Hokunani “Star” Osorno’s death.

“Star was a bright light to everyone who knew her,” the note reads. “Her passing will leave an indelible mark on her family and the Jeff community.”

Last week, Portland firefighters rescued a 15-month-old girl after she appeared to have put a piece of fentanyl-contaminated aluminum foil in her mouth and overdosed while in a Safeway parking lot in Southeast Portland, officials said. First responders used naloxone, an opioid overdose reversal drug, on the toddler Friday night.

Fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid that is about 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, has contributed to a recent massive spike in overdoses and overdose deaths in Portland and across the U.S.

The Police Bureau’s Narcotics and Organized Crime Unit is investigating the overdoses, which happened between June 15 and Sept. 22 and included children ages 1 to 17. Police investigated nine juvenile overdose cases in 2020, 2021 and 2022 combined, officials said.

More than 240 suspected overdoses have been reported to the Police Bureau so far this year, compared with 158 in all of 2022, officials said.

County health officials first started noticing fentanyl creeping into the area’s drug supply around 2019, primarily in the form of counterfeit pills, said Tyler Swift, the Multnomah County overdose prevention and response project manager, in May.

Preliminary figures show almost 300 people fatally overdosed from fentanyl use across Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties in 2022, Swift said.

While the total number of fatal overdoses didn’t increase significantly between 2021 and 2022, Swift said the share of overdose deaths caused by fentanyl has spiked.

Juvenile suspected fentanyl overdoses since mid-June 2023:

  • June 15: 1-year-old survived
  • June 19: 2-year-old died
  • June 25: 4-year-old survived
  • Aug. 10: 15-year-old died
  • Aug. 24: 1-year-old died
  • Aug. 26: 17-year-old survived
  • Sept. 14: 5-year-old died
  • Sept. 20: 15-year-old died
  • Sept. 22: 15-month-old survived

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