Methamphetamine use and trafficking is up in Oregon, but authorities are developing strategies to break up the distribution chain, according to a new state report.

“Methamphetamine use and trafficking has increased … and reflects the area’s greatest drug threat, followed by heroin, marijuana, controlled prescription drugs, cocaine and designer drugs,” the report says.

Those are the conclusions of a new state report released last week by the Oregon High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Program, part of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.  The program helps to manage anti-drug efforts in Clackamas, Deschutes, Douglas, Jackson, Lane, Malheur, Marion, Multnomah, Umatilla and Washington counties and the Warm Springs Indian Reservation, along with and Ada and Canyon counties in Idaho.

The report says heroin production is expanding in Mexico and Oregon’s legal medical marijuana growing operations “continues to be exploited” for supplying black-market sales.

Abuse of prescription drugs also is on the rise as more doctors have stepped up prescriptions for opioid medications while family members or friends continue to pass their medications to users. An ironic postscript, however, indicates that some prescription opioid users have switched to heroin because it is easier to obtain.

Designer drugs such as ecstasy, synthetic cannabis, bath salts and LSD still are available on college campuses.

The only good news was that cocaine use, reflecting national trends, continues to decline.

Here is the report: 2016 Oregon HIDTA Threat Assessment and Counter-drug Strategy.

And here are some highlights:

Methamphetamine

While naming meth as the “most serious drug threat,” the report also says raids on meth labs have fallen since Oregon lawmakers made it much harder to obtain the so-called “precursor” drugs – especially pseudoephedrine – which is used to make meth.

However, meth remains pervasive because Mexican drug traffickers continue to smuggle meth powder, liquid and finished “crystal meth” or “ice” from laboratories outside the state, the report says. Some production operations seem to have been transferred to California’s Simi Valley.

Once in Oregon, outlaw motorcycle clubs and street gangs are the primary retail distributors, the report says.

Sixty-two percent of law enforcement agencies surveyed reported that meth was the number 1 problem, with the majority saying it contributes to violent crime and property crimes. More than 60 percent said meth serves as the primary funding source for major criminal activity.

Furthermore, the number of suspected meth samples submitted to the Oregon State Police Crime Lab every year continues to rise, from more than 5,000 in 2009 to nearly 9,000 in 2014, the last year for which crime-lab statistics are available.

The number of meth-related arrests in Oregon has doubled from 2009 to 2015.

Heroin

Twenty-four percent of law enforcement agencies surveyed indicated that heroin was the principal threat in their jurisdictions. Again, most of the heroin is smuggled into Oregon by Mexican drug trafficking organizations, largely through California and sometimes through Arizona and Nevada.

The Portland metro area serves as the main retail distribution hub, the report says. Sales occur in restaurants and nightclubs, as well as through online connections and social networking sites.

Street-level distribution also takes place at open-air drug markets in the region, particularly in Portland. For example, open-air drug markets in Portland are located primarily in the vicinity of Old Town, Waterfront Park, Pioneer Square and Lloyd Center, with the greatest concentration of drug sales occurring near the MAX light-rail line, the report says.

Reports from police suggest that the number of criminal groups distributing heroin has increased. Distributors who previously sold only meth or cocaine have entered the heroin market, luring new customers with low prices and free samples, the report says.

Marijuana

Marijuana remains the most pervasive drug in Oregon, with 97 percent of law enforcement officers surveyed in 2015 reporting that it was highly available, the report says. Seventy-seven percent said concentrates such as hash were highly available, with nearly half reporting a rise in prevalence.

Contributing factors, the report says, are indoor and outdoor growing operations run by drug trafficking organizations. But also because of “criminal exploitation of the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program,” which funnels marijuana into underground sales.

Use of marijuana among Oregon residents remains high compared to most other states. The latest national survey results reveal that in 2012 and 2013, Oregon ranked fifth in the nation for marijuana use by people age 12 and older — well above the national average.

Most of Oregon’s marijuana is produced in outdoor growing operations. However, some is smuggled from other states, Mexico and Canada.

In November 2014, Oregon voters passed Measure 91, legalizing personal use and possession of recreational marijuana by adults 21 and older. Beginning July 1, Oregon residents can grow as many as four plants and possess as much as 8 ounces of marijuana. Sales in retails stores are expected to begin next year.

The impact of Measure 91 is not known, the report says. However, trends reported in Colorado and Washington — two states that earlier legalized marijuana for recreational use — indicate Oregon may see increased use, particularly by youth; increased exposure cases; increased public use; more intoxicated driving; more THC-extraction labs and related explosions; exploitation of the law as a cover for illegal grow operations; and more drug trafficking in and out of the state, the report warns.

Prescription drugs

The report says a 2014 nationwide study indicates one in five people ages 12 and older started with drugs by abusing controlled prescription drugs — mainly painkillers. The drugs are relatively easy to obtain through friends and relatives, but also through burglaries, theft, online “rogue pharmacies,” forged prescriptions, “doctor shopping,” street purchases and smuggling across state lines, the report says.

The supply, the report says, is fueled by availability. In 2014, prescriptions for the painkillers hydrocodone (Vicodin) and oxycodone (OxyContin) combined for more than 43 percent of all controlled prescription drugs.

Despite a decline of 28 percent from 2011, the number of overdose deaths from prescription drugs in Oregon was higher in 2014 than the number of deaths attributed to heroin and nearly matched total deaths associated with methamphetamine use, the report says. Of the 139 confirmed fatalities related to the use of prescription drugs, oxycodone was highest (59), followed by methadone (54) and hydrocodone (26).

The report says 26 percent of law enforcement agencies reported smuggling of prescription drugs into their areas.

Cocaine

Cocaine use might be one of the brighter spots in the report.

In Oregon, the volume of cocaine seized has dropped by more than 40 percent since 2011. The number of cocaine samples submitted to the Oregon State Police Crime Lab fell by nearly 60 percent between 2009 and 2014.

Availability of cocaine has dropped in most markets, but Multnomah and Clackamas counties reported moderate to high availability and use, along with Lane and Jackson counties. Crack cocaine is most prevalent in the Portland metro area, the report says.

Mexican drug-trafficking organizations dominate the smuggling of powdered cocaine, followed by criminal street gangs. These groups bring the drugs into Oregon from Mexico, California and southwestern states, the report says. Interstates 5 and 84, along with U.S. 20, 97 and 101 are the main transportation routes, using private and commercial vehicles, the report says. However, the drug-trafficking organizations also use couriers on commercial airlines, trains, maritime shipments and commercial package-delivery services.

Other drugs

Designer drugs are obtained from a variety of sources, including local production, retail outlets, the Internet, and through cross-border trafficking, the report says.

These drugs include ecstasy, which is popular among teens and young adults who go to raves, bars, nightclubs and private parties. “Molly,” a street name for the powered form of ecstasy, appears to be growing in popularity, the report says.

The vast majority of ecstasy is produced in Canada and smuggled into Oregon by Asian drug-trafficking organizations, the report says.

Meanwhile, Multnomah, Clackamas and Umatilla counties indicate that availability of synthetic cannabis such as “spice” is on the rise. Between 2010 and 2014, Oregon law enforcement seized 786 pounds of synthetic cannabinoids, mostly in the Portland metro area and to a lesser extent in Douglas, Jackson and Lane counties, the report says.

Most synthetic cannabinoids are manufactured in China and Peru. Many are available at head shops and convenience stores.

Hallucinogens such as LSD and DMT remain available, along with psilocybin mushrooms, which grow wild and are most popular with high school and college students.

Outlook

The outlook isn’t brilliant, the report says, predicting increased use across the board that is dominated by Mexican drug traffickers.

Meth and heroin will remain big drug threats and continue to contribute to violent crimes, identity theft and property crimes, following the trend of abuse.

The abuse and trafficking of heroin and prescription painkillers also will continue to expand.

Mexican drug traffickers will continue to control outdoor cultivation of marijuana. Meanwhile, exploitation of medical marijuana laws will encourage larger indoor marijuana-growing operations, the report says.

The demand for designer drugs is expected to rise due to wide availability of related chemicals.

Bulk smuggling of cash and money laundering will remain the primary methods of bringing money into and out of Oregon.

Counter-drug strategy

The Oregon High Density Drug Trafficking Area’s strategy is focused on two goals:

  • Disrupt the market for illegal drugs by dismantling or disrupting drug trafficking and money-laundering organizations.
  • Improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the anti-drug initiatives.

During 2016, the Oregon HIDTA managers will conduct on-site reviews of local funding and programs to evaluate their effectiveness and progress. These findings will be reported and discussed formally with the executive board throughout the year.

— Rick Bella [email protected]

503-294-5915; @southnewshound 

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