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Talking Beat - Fentanyl in Portland

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Fentanyl Pills
This episode of the Talking Beat features a discussion on fentanyl. Fentanyl is prevalent in Portland, crossing all demographic boundaries. It affects all races, all socioeconomic groups, and can be a deadly choice.
Published
Talking Beat - May 2022

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Henry's Uncle

Transcript:
Announcer:

This week's episode of the Talking Beat features a discussion on fentanyl. Fentanyl is prevalent in Portland, crossing all demographic boundaries. It affects all races, all socioeconomic groups, and can be a deadly choice.

Announcer:

In this episode, Terri Wallo-Strauss from our strategic communications unit talks with Lt. Chris Lindsey of PPB's narcotics and organized crime unit and Erik Kilgore, founder of Henry's Uncle, a local nonprofit and host of a podcast by the same name, about the life-changing effects of fentanyl.

Announcer:

We hope you'd take away some important information from the show.

Lt. Chris Lindsey:

We see a lot of cases where people who purchase from a dealer and they say, "Oh, I thought we were buying Oxycontin," or, "I thought we were buying Xanax." A lot of times, the purchasers don't know what they're getting, and they could be getting a very lethal dose of a highly, highly lethal drug.

Terri Wallo-Strauss:

Welcome to the Talking Beat, and welcome, Chris, and, Erik, today. Thank you for being here.

Terri Wallo-Strauss:

Today's conversation is really important and serious. We're here to talk about fentanyl. How it gets on our streets and into the hands of people who may not understand that it can have deadly consequences.

Terri Wallo-Strauss:

Erik, I really want to start with you and your story. I think it will set the stage a little bit for how important this topic is and how life-changing it can be for victims and their families. Your brother James died by overdose in 2018, and I'm sorry for your loss, and I know that, through the pain, you are trying to bring awareness. Can you talk a little bit about what happened with James and what you've been doing since then?

Erik Kilgore:

Certainly. I want to thank everyone for having this conversation. It's very much appreciative. Yeah, so my name is Erik Kilgore. I am the younger brother to James. James was my older brother by almost three years. We grew up here in Portland, born and raised, and never did drugs, things of that nature, but it wasn't until about when James was around 22, 23, when he got his first taste of Oxycontin. He didn't know how addictive it was, but he liked the feeling of it, and so that was roughly 13 years ago when it was... Oxycontin was still labeled as non-addictive. And in about four months in is when he realized what this medication is and how addictive it is, and he went to my parents and told them what was going on.

Erik Kilgore:

He told them he was very scared of the withdrawals because he researched them online, and so they got him, from what I understand, into a Suboxone Clinic for about 90 days to taper him off. I think just like anyone, my parents back then and so many people to this day is, you think, once you're clean, if you want to call it that, you're good to go for the rest of your life. And what we didn't know is addiction is a lifelong, manageable disease. And so, for about a decade, my brother and my dad and I, we had our own company. We shared an office, and never once did I think James had an issue. I didn't know anything about it maybe until the last year when my parents finally told me what was going on with James. That would've been, what, eight years prior, and so it wasn't until the last month when I started seeing weird signs of...

Erik Kilgore:

He would just leave the office. We worked downtown here. He would just leave the office and just say, "I need to go home and get a pen or pencil," or just some random excuse just to get out of the office, and it didn't make sense to me. My father and I, did confront him. I did raise the issue saying, "I am concerned by these excuses and the behavior of what was going on," and he said, "No." He is not using at the time. Even the night before he passed, just a few hours before he passed, my dad was concerned and he said "No." And just a few hours after that phone call, he ingested what he thought was a 30-milligram Oxycontin pill, but was laced with fentanyl. The coroner said anywhere from 40 to 400 times the therapeutic amount, and it rocked our world.

Erik Kilgore:

We had no idea fentanyl was in the street supply. I mean, all we ever heard of it was for legit medication for when you're in surgery or cancer patients. We had no idea that powerful of a drug was being laced into counterfeit pills. It was December 9th, 2018, when I found him. Went into his condo, and he was just between the couch and his coffee table, cold, hard. I've never experienced a dead body before, and that's my lasting image of him. An image I think that drives me to raise awareness through my nonprofit, Henry's Uncle, to make sure no one ever experiences that because it's just unbearable. We lost a generation from the opioid epidemic, and now we're rapidly losing another generation to this fentanyl epidemic, and it's just very scary. It's insanely scary what's happening.

Terri Wallo-Strauss:

Chris, I want to bring you into the conversation. Tell us what is going on in Portland in regard to fentanyl.

Lt. Chris Lindsey:

We're seeing a pretty rapid rise in the use and the dealing in fentanyl. So far, in 2022, we've had... My team has had 42 notifications of overdose deaths. 20 of those are suspected or confirmed fentanyl or counterfeit M30 pills. The reason for this rise is that it is... For a couple of reasons it's extremely cheap. It costs $1,000 to produce a kilogram of fentanyl. That's enough for 500,000 lethal doses.

Lt. Chris Lindsey:

Powder fentanyl goes for about $1,300 an ounce, and it only takes a very, very small amount for someone to get the high or the sensation they're looking for and or to overdose. So imagine taking an ounce of fentanyl and then taking some kind of mixer like acetaminophen, aspirin, baking soda, baking powder, anything, and taking just a tiny, tiny bit of fentanyl and mixing it together and crushing that and making a pill. Now, what you've got is you have thousands of lethal doses that could be sold for $5 a pop. So, it's extremely cheap and it's very, very, very potent. So, you're getting a really intense and extreme high from this small pill that costs you five to $10.

Lt. Chris Lindsey:

Additionally, clandestinely produced fentanyl is now being produced in Mexico by the cartels, and they are pushing this drug along with the more traditional hard drugs because it's so cheap to make and because it is so highly addictive. They're essentially trying to get people addicted to this drug because they know they can make a lot of money off of it.

Terri Wallo-Strauss:

So, I've seen the bags of the blue pills that are... Are they stamped M30?

Lt. Chris Lindsey:

Yes.

Terri Wallo-Strauss:

I just want people to be aware of what it looks like. Is that all you're seeing, that particular type?

Lt. Chris Lindsey:

That is the most common we're seeing are the stamped M30s, and those are essentially what those are is they counterfeit Oxycontin pills. So, and the M stands for milligram, 30-milligram Oxycontin. What's really important that needs to be brought up is that, a lot of times, when someone is buying fentanyl, they think they're buying something else. So we just had a recent case, and I can't get too far into the details on it, but I will say that some of the statements we took from people who had purchased from this particular dealer said, "We thought we were ordering Percs." Well, they thought they were ordering Percocet. Well, they got fentanyl instead.

Lt. Chris Lindsey:

We see a lot of cases where we interview people who purchase from a dealer and they say, "Oh, I thought we were buying Oxycontin." Or, "I thought we were buying Xanax." A lot of times, the purchasers don't know what they're getting, and they could be getting a very lethal dose of a highly, highly lethal drug.

Terri Wallo-Strauss:

So it's kind of different, I think. In talking about addiction that people like James got addicted to Oxycontin or Percocet and maybe through a doctor, maybe through an injury, and then now they're just legitimately trying to get that drug, but of course, they can't get it through traditional means, so they have to go this route. So, it's almost like they're playing Russian roulette with these pills that they don't know. And if you're not getting it from a pharmacy, you don't know what is in that pill, correct?

Lt. Chris Lindsey:

Correct, and you have to remember, too, there's also... And this is just my opinion. There's also kind of a stigma to doing the traditional cocaine, meth, heroin, those kind of hard drugs. There's a little more availability and maybe acceptance among crowds of people who think they're buying just prescription pills to use to get high and party on a Friday night as opposed to, "I'm going to go downtown." Or, "I'm going to go somewhere and I'm going to buy heroin." Or, "I'm going to buy meth." Things that people like, "No. That stuff is really, really bad for me." There's less of a stigma when you think you're buying a non-hard drug.

Terri Wallo-Strauss:

Do you think that's the reason for some of the teenage overdoses? I know we've had three recently.

Lt. Chris Lindsey:

Yes, absolutely.

Terri Wallo-Strauss:

So Erik, you started a podcast after James' death, and I think you learned a lot about addiction along the way. Can you tell us a little bit about the podcast and what you've learned?

Erik Kilgore:

Yeah. I was just talking about stigma here, I was one of those people growing up, when you think of addiction, you think it's that person's fault. It's their issue, and why can't they get their addiction under control? There was no awareness. It was always just say, "No." Growing up, that was the whole campaign, just say no. So, if someone's an alcoholic or a drug user, it's their issue. What we didn't know was, or I didn't know, one, why is this country in such a big drug epidemic? Why is it particularly just AmErika? We're seeing massive amounts of overdose deaths, and so, for me, I wanted all sides. I didn't want to see the news, just like a five-minute clip or read one book. I wanted real-life experiences and what was going on.

Erik Kilgore:

Thus, far one of our project is a podcast. We've done about 45 so far, and it ranges from talking to detectives here from the Portland Police Bureau to people who have had lifelong addictions. People, family members who have lost a loved one, who have dealt with addiction, social service workers and what they see, and it's really opened my eyes on why people go through addiction. And it's not just this black and white scenario. Again, there are thousands, thousands of people who may get an injury and they're prescribed Oxycontin, had no idea. But there's also this other where, they had a rough childhood they were abused, there were mental health issues, everything going just not their way, and so when you take a drug... Say, like a Xanax or an Oxycontin or anything like that, or Percocet, you might get a different feeling. They always talk about that warmth, that kind of bear hug it gives them, and that's what kind of leads them on.

Erik Kilgore:

And so there's just so much more to what's going on than I realized, and so it's opened my eyes about addiction and what's going on and what's working, what's not working. And we're starting to see this change I would say in the country of... Especially with this fentanyl epidemic happening right now and so many young people dying. What's going on and why is this happening? And so now, people I think are listening and are having those conversations and want to understand more about it because it's not just people who are addicted. It's just teenagers, maybe a 15-year-old who just took a pill and died because of that, and they have no idea. So, it's affecting everyone now in this country.

Terri Wallo-Strauss:

Back to the podcast for a second, you called it Henry's Uncle. Why don't you tell us why you called it that?

Erik Kilgore:

Yeah. So my nonprofit, Henry's Uncle, at the time, James and I, when we grew up, especially in our later years. I'm mid-30s now, but when he passed, he was 34 and I was 31. But after I got married, James always talked about wanting to be married, we're kind of roughly the same, and have kids at the same age, things like that. So, we have cousins running around. I saw James, and he had a lot of fun with his friends' kids. He got the chance to see them grow up and hang out with them as their toddlers, and four and five year olds and things of that nature and I didn't get that experience.

Erik Kilgore:

So Henry was James's first nephew and who is now four. And at the time of James' death, he was just eight months. And it just broke my heart that there's... We don't have a photo with him and James. And it just really hurts that especially at this age they were like two peas in a pod. Just roughhousing, laughing, having fun and so that name was Henry's Uncle so that's how it came about. And to be able to honor James as an uncle and raise awareness in his name.

Terri Wallo-Strauss:

Chris, let's talk about the narcotics and organized crime unit that's where you're currently assigned. And it's diminished over the years, as some parts of the Portland Police Bureau have had to been downsized a little bit. What is your focus there?

Lt. Chris Lindsey:

So in the narcotics and organized crime, part of the specialized resources' division, we basically have three main focuses that we do. The first is that we respond to all overdose deaths in the city that we are notified about. And then we try and work back through the investigation to find out who the supplier of those drugs were that caused the overdose. We also do interdiction, which is where we try to take loads or supplies of drugs before they make it to the street when they're in transit. And then we'll also do a what are called essentially like controlled buys. And then we'll go back and try and do a search warrant on the supplier's residence.

Lt. Chris Lindsey:

I have five investigators that do that. We are supplemented by our federal partners over at the Homeland Security, but they also have other jobs as well so they're not over here a 100% of the time. In 2020, we had 87 notifications. In 2021, we had a 132, a 133, excuse me. And right now for 2022, we're sitting at 42. Of those 42, we have this year so far 20 of those. So just about 50% are suspected or confirmed fentanyl.

Terri Wallo-Strauss:

And I know that the patrol officers have been doing a really good job.

Lt. Chris Lindsey:

Yeah. They're really helping us in regards to responding to an overdose. They're doing a really good job of preserving the crime scene and looking for evidence and seeing if there's ways for us to do follow up before we arrive. And they're also doing a really good job of their own interdicting the drugs on the street. Finding bags of pills, discovering who the possessors are, who the dealers are, and then contacting us for us to do follow up later on. So the patrol officers have been doing an absolutely fabulous job and I would... And myself and the team would like to thank them. And I also want to point out that we have partners with the Internal Revenue Service who help us out as well during these investigations. So I want to thank them as well.

Terri Wallo-Strauss:

So Erik, you talk about this all the time. I know, and you've really dedicated yourself to building awareness. Now we need to talk about how do we get the word out? What can we do, especially for people that really think that they are buying something else and they're not, and that they just takes it, that it's like a grain that could kill you.

Erik Kilgore:

Yeah. I think just having the conversation, especially as a parent, if you have, especially with teenagers right now, because that's where you're seeing the highest rate of overdose deaths year over year. Teenagers from or young adults from 15 to 24. And that's just... It's so sad and you see the moms and I think this is going to be a huge thing where I think the moms of AmErika are going to drive this epidemic down, because they are so fed up with what's happening and they are so sad. And you see the heartbreak, but what they always say is its much easier to have that difficult conversation about drugs and fentanyl than it is to sit there without their child. That's a very powerful statement. Have those tough conversations or just the conversations just saying, "If you're at a party or if you're feeling down or depressed or you have anxiety or whatever you're going through at the moment don't be peer pressured into it."

Erik Kilgore:

Or if you are experiencing some mental health situation, like I mentioned, anxiety or depression, don't go searching on Snapchat or anything like that or Facebook for a quick fix. Because again, it's most likely counterfeit and it could contain a lethal dose of fentanyl. And just making awareness, just talking to every single person about it. I mean, anyone. Next week I'll be down at U of O and we'll be handing out flyers just about fentanyl, the signs of an overdose, the good Samaritan laws and handing out Narcan. Because especially at that young age when you're so impulsive and you think you're invincible and nothing's ever going to happen to me, it's very scary. And so just making awareness and just trying to meet people where they're at, going to schools, talking to high school students right there in the gym. I just talked to freshman and sophomores a few weeks ago at a local high school here.

Erik Kilgore:

And I was showing them pictures of... Asking them to raise their hands what you think is fake or a real prescription. And they kind of got a laugh out of it when their answer was wrong and it's just like, "Man, that's..." I told them there's nothing to laugh about because you're dead. At that age I never had to go through that and afterwards when you have five or six students who are the ages of 15, 16, where can I get Narcan at? I never would've even imagined in my life even thinking about that. And one teenager, he did have awareness in saying, "Where can I get in Narcan? Because I do feel like my friends may be vulnerable to an overdose." And you're just... It just and it breaks my heart. Growing up it was, we didn't have to worry about such a potent drug being laced into so many different things.

Erik Kilgore:

And now you have college kids and I was talking to a neighbor who has two college kids in a local university here in Oregon and he said, "Cocaine is just normal. It's just normal now." And you go to a party it's just right there and fentanyl's cut in cocaine. Fake counterfeit Xanax, Percocets, Adderall. Adderall that was a very normal drug to take in college when I was... 13 years ago, you'd see people especially during finals week popping those it's very scary to think how many fake pills are out there. And these kids just just think they're invincible and it will never happen to them.

Terri Wallo-Strauss:

So Erik mentioned Narcan. Chris, why don't you talk to us a little bit about our officers carrying Narcan now or what's going on?

Lt. Chris Lindsey:

So currently we have only the officers at Central Precinct here who have been trained and are carrying Narcan or Naloxone. We are in the process of developing a training and program to roll that out to the entire police bureau to include the non-sworn, should they want to carry it? It's still in development, but we are hoping to get that out to everyone here in the very near future. So what Narcan does is, it can reverse the effects of an overdose. We'll be distributing it in a nasal spray where it's inserted into the nostril and sprayed up the nose. But I would really like to point out, as I said, just because you're administered Narcan, it does not mean you will survive. You are still gambling. You are still playing Russian roulette every time you take this drug.

Terri Wallo-Strauss:

So we don't want the message to be, "Oh, let's have a party and let's take drugs and then we can just take Narcan and we can go back in time and have this experience bit I'll be okay," because that's not going to necessarily be guaranteed. Correct?

Lt. Chris Lindsey:

Correct.

Terri Wallo-Strauss:

There was that campaign that said one pill can kill. But I think I saw an interview with you, Chris, where you were saying that a half a pill killed somebody recently.

Lt. Chris Lindsey:

Yes. We've had a few cases recently where the person has OD'ed on half a pill, half a counterfeit, M30 pill.

Erik Kilgore:

That's a great point. Especially with fentanyl it's called the chocolate chip cookie dough effect where the fentanyl powder does clump. And so when you do press the pill that fentanyl, where it may be at is stuck there. So, if you take a pill and say, maybe you want to test it, use a fentanyl test strip and you just take some residue. It's never, those aren't bulletproof. Those aren't going to be a hundred percent accurate because the fentanyl might be in a little piece of this pill.

Erik Kilgore:

And so you might split in half and one person can take half a pill and the other person can take half a pill. The other person might not get anything. Because there might be no drugs in it besides maybe some sedomoenophen or whatever they cut into it. And the other half of that pill might be all the fentanyl. So it is, it's very Russian roulette the way this is all happening. Half a pill, whatever it may be, that fentanyl, that hotspot might be right there.

Terri Wallo-Strauss:

So Erik, you mentioned good Samaritan laws. Why don't you tell us a little bit about that?

Erik Kilgore:

Yeah. I think this is very important for every woman, especially, teenagers and young adults. I've met too many parents and there's two in particular who it just... It breaks my heart. When you see someone overdosing, especially when... Any time but when you're young as a teenager or a young adult, you might be scared by calling 911 you're going to get arrested. And many states have good Samaritan laws where that protects you where again, the most critical thing is to call 911 because this is an emergency situation to get emergency care there. And so they can try to revive and reverse the overdose of that person. There's one person I'm wearing his bracelet. His mother gave me Isaiah Gonzalez from Arizona. He was 15. He went to a mall with some friends, took a pill and thought it was a Percocet.

Erik Kilgore:

And he got a call or she got a call from a family friend saying, "There's pictures of your son circulating right through Snapchat right now, passed out." Didn't know, and his friends waited an hour to call 911. And again, good Samaritan laws allow you to call 911. Even if you have drugs there to have the EMTs come down and help that person to get... Try to revive them there, get Narcan into them or take them to the hospital for proper care. Same thing happened to another 18 year old. His mother said he was with his friends, took a pill, was overdosing. His friends were filming it apparently on Snapchat. His mother got a call from a family friend saying, "Hey, your son's passed out right now. What's going on? I see it on Snapchat."

Erik Kilgore:

And she's the one who had to call 911 that's just... And he unfortunately died. And that's just... Those situations when I hear that break my heart. And that's why I think it's so important to know about these good Samaritan laws. Because again, people should not be dying from this, especially our youth should not be dying from this. And it breaks my heart that these parents and family members have to go through that. And so again, it's very important to know your good Samaritan laws in your state, or if someone is overdosing, call 911 immediately so they can get proper care so they can hopefully live a long, healthy life.

Terri Wallo-Strauss:

So as we talked about the most important thing is really getting the word out, really educating people and really getting the message across that this just one choice can be deadly. How do we do that, Chris? And do you guys over Narc, I mean, what do you do for outreach?

Lt. Chris Lindsey:

So we partner with a group called Overdose Emergency Response. It's a group of local county, federal and state agencies. And we meet a few times a month and what we do, what our part is at Narc and the Portland Police Bureau is we share with them the emerging trends that we're seeing in terms of what drugs we're finding, what they look like, where we're finding them. We can't go into too much detail because the investigations may still be ongoing. But what that does is that gives them a framework on how to go on their end and do education and outreach as well. So that way we try to keep them up to date on what we're seeing on the most emerging trends regarding these drugs.

Lt. Chris Lindsey:

And that way they can share that with the public and hopefully educate them on what to avoid. In addition to outreach, I also can stress the importance of the work we're doing to try to interdict these drugs before they even make it to the street. It's really important that we catch these and that way we can work our way back to the higher level suppliers and then start taking off larger quantities of this drug before the flood of drug on the street gets too great.

Terri Wallo-Strauss:

And Erik, I want to give you one last time to talk a little bit about your nonprofit and how people can reach you if they're interested in participating or wanting more information.

Erik Kilgore:

Sure. Yes. Thank you. Yeah. So, again, our mission at Henry's Uncle is to raise awareness about illicit fentanyl and to help end the stigma of addiction. You can find us at henrysuncle.org. We're also on social media, Facebook at Forever Henry's Uncle. Instagram, Henrys_uncle. And again, raising awareness about illicit fentanyl and trying to spread the word to help end the stigma of addiction.

Terri Wallo-Strauss:

Thank you both for being here today.

Announcer:

Thanks for listening to the Talking Beat. Do you have a question for us? You can call and leave a message on our dedicated voicemail line at 971-339-8868. Or send us an email to talkingbeat@portlandoregon.gov. If you enjoyed this episode, please share it with your friends. More episodes can be found at our website, portlandoregon.gov/police/podcast.