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Crisis in the Northwest: Police struggle as fentanyl’s grip in rural Oregon becomes ‘nexus’ of daily responses


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This article is a preview of an in-depth look at the challenges rural Oregon faces as Portland’s high-profile problems monopolize attention. The full story will be published Saturday, Feb. 10.

McMinnville, Ore. — While Portland receives national attention for its fentanyl crisis, rural Oregon has similarly faced the opioid epidemic head-on — and without the same resources available as those in a major city.

“The drugs don’t distinguish between a user in downtown Portland and a user up in the rural part of the county,” Yamhill County Sheriff Sam Elliott said.

Fentanyl has been a constant plague in the rural county since around 2021 when it started to surpass methamphetamine as the drug of choice. Deputies often race through backroads to respond to overdose calls sometimes as far as an hour away.

Sam Elliott, rural Oregon county cop

Yamhill Sheriff Sam Elliott serves a rural Oregon county where fentanyl has taken hold. He says it’s a “nexus” that influences other crimes, with burglaries and arrests being used as a way for addicts to support their drug use. (Hannah Ray Lambert/Fox News Digital)

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“Fentanyl has a nexus to a lot of what we do day-in and day-out, whether it’s responding to burglaries and thefts, finding that it’s people supporting habits, or people that are suffering overdoses,” Elliott said.

There’s no shortage of examples of fentanyl users endangering police and the public. A driver, for example, crashed while smoking off a piece of foil. At a high school, three students and a deputy started feeling sick and went to the hospital after an exposure to suspected fentanyl.

In Portland, meanwhile, services like detox centers and low-barrier shelters are available to help drug users who want to tackle their addictions. Those are also available in rural Oregon, but they serve a larger area, forcing users to travel significant distances.

Police suv in rural Oregon

Lights flash on a police car as an officer responds to a call in the city of Sheridan in Yamhill County. (Hannah Ray Lambert/Fox News Digital)

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That’s a deterrent, Elliott said, for addicts interested in help.

“It’s just challenging when you’re dealing with things that are spread out over a large area to get people connected to those services and keep them engaged with it,” he told Fox News.

Rural Oregon farmland

Yamhill County, located southwest of Portland, is in the grips of a fentanyl crisis. Its rural nature means it can take up to an hour to reach an overdose victim. (Hannah Ray Lambert/Fox News Digital)

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Elliott’s comments are included in a forthcoming, in-depth story about the problems plaguing rural — and typically conservative — Oregon counties, such as homelessness and addiction. The deep dive, which also includes remarks from a lawmaker who represents a rural area, will be published Saturday morning.

That story is the next installment of “Crisis in the Northwest,” a Fox News Digital series examining the crises Oregon faces. Previous parts have analyzed how decriminalized drugs have affected Portland, weighed potential paths forward, highlighted a program showing some successes and included city leaders’ frustrations over guard rails and limited progress.

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