Real or fake, opioids a growing Oregon problem

Officials said 80 people have died in Oregon since 2014 from synthetic opioids

Prescription pills (KOIN, file)
Prescription pills (KOIN, file)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Counterfeit prescription drugs are being sold in the Portland area, around Oregon and online, often containing extremely potent substances including heroin.

In a release Monday, the Portland Police Bureau said these counterfeits are being sold as Xanax, Oxycodone, Alprazolama and others. An analysis of the seized pills by the Oregon State Police Crime Lab shows the fake pills sometimes contained heroin, fentanyl, tramadol and other potent drugs that can cause overdoses.

Officials said 80 people have died in Oregon in accidental overdoses from synthetic opioids since 2014. The death toll is on the rise, they said.

This information comes on the heels of a “60 Minutes” report that the prescription drug industry is “out of control” and that the prescription drug distributors “allowed millions and millions of drugs to go into bad pharmacies and doctors’ offices, that distributed them out to people who had no legitimate need for those drugs.”

CBS correspondent Bill Whitaker asked Joe Rannazzisi, the former head of the DEA’s Office of Diversion Control, if the big drug companies knew they were pumping drugs into American communities that were killing people.

“That’s not an implication, that’s a fact,” Rannazzisi told 60 Minutes. “That’s exactly what they did.”

The 60 Minutes story was a co-investigation with the Washington Post.

Rannazzisi told 60 Minutes he wonders why Congress unanimously passed a bill last year that limits the DEA’s power to fight opioid abuse. The bill, introduced by Pennsylvania Republican Tom Marino, was promoted as a way to ensure that patients had access to the pain medication they needed.

Marino is now President Trump’s nominee to be the federal drug czar. Asked at a press conference Monday about the 60 Minutes story, Trump said he will look into it.

Oregon Rep. Suzanne Bonamici told KOIN 6 News Congress should immediately hold hearings on the issue.

“I’m extremely concerned,” Bonamici said before a town hall meeting Monday night. “We’ve got to address this. It’s affecting too many families and there are ways to do it.”

In August, Multnomah County commissioners, led by Sharon Meieran, voted to sue opioid drug makers for $250 million.

The problem hit home 15 months ago when the Fusion Wellness Clinic in Southeast Portland was shut down. Its 2 operators, Julie DeMille and Osasuyi Kenneth Idumwonyi, plus nearly 20 other people are accused of prescribing excessive amounts of oxycodone and hydrocodone to customers.

Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury said they’re spending millions every year to address the drug problem, one that’s back under the microscope after whistle-blowing by the former high-ranking DEA official.

In a statement, the Drug Enforcement Agency said:

“The Drug Enforcement Administration uses a wide array of tools – administrative, civil and criminal – to fight the diversion of controlled substances. While only a minute fraction of the more than 1.7 million individuals with DEA registrations are involved with this type of activity, we work every day to identify the sources of the diverted prescription drugs in our communities. During the past seven years, we have removed approximately 900 registrations annually, preventing reckless doctors and rogue businesses from making an already troubling problem worse. Increasingly, more and more individuals are facing criminal charges. During the same timeframe, our investigators initiated more than 10,000 cases and averaged more than 2,000 arrests per year. We will continue fighting the opioid crisis and continue to use all the tools at our disposal to combat this epidemic.”