Multnomah County To Distribute Drug Paraphernalia Supplies For Street Drug Users

Portland, Ore. — Multnomah County has confirmed that it will start distributing clean tin foil, straws, glass pipes (referred to as “bubbles” and “stems”), and snorting kits to street drug users, with a focus on individuals who smoke fentanyl, methamphetamine, or crack. The decision comes as a response to changing drug use behaviors, particularly the increasing prevalence of fentanyl over heroin. The Multnomah County Health Department (MCHD) stated that fewer individuals are seeking clean needles for intravenous drug use.

The county’s harm reduction program has experienced a decline in individuals seeking clean syringes, with a 30% decrease from 2019 to 2022. In 2019, 3,367 people sought clean syringes, whereas in 2022, the number decreased to 2,359. Overall visits to the program dropped almost 61% during the same period, from 14,337 visits to 5,625.

The MCHD believes that by offering a wider range of supplies, including smoking and snorting tools, they can increase engagement with drug users. This would provide opportunities for health education, resource referrals, and testing for HIV, STIs, and Hepatitis C. Additionally, the agency aims to gain better insight into emerging public health issues affecting this population.

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler expressed apparent opposition to the county’s new harm reduction offerings, suggesting that it might encourage fentanyl use. The MCHD declined to comment on the mayor’s statement directly but emphasized that the provision of safer drug use supplies does not increase illegal drug use. They cited existing research that indicates the same logic applies to smoking supplies as it does to syringe access.

While these smoking supplies are currently considered drug paraphernalia under Oregon law, the MCHD already distributes items labeled as such, including fentanyl test strips. House Bill 2395, awaiting Gov. Tina Kotek’s signature, could potentially change the legal designation.

The county’s goal in updating the supplied items is to re-engage clients who switched to smoking, newly engage clients who solely smoke or snort drugs, and support clients who are reducing injecting frequency in favor of smoking or snorting when possible. The MCHD emphasizes that individuals seeking these services are already using substances, and the aim is to decrease harm and the spread of blood-borne diseases associated with intravenous drug use.

Distribution of the new harm reduction supplies will begin this month, according to the MCHD.