Jackson County officials grapple with a growing overdose crisis

By Jane Vaughan (Jefferson Public Radio)
Nov. 4, 2023 5 p.m.

As Oregon faces increasing problems with drug use and overdoses, Jackson County has been hit especially hard.

So far this year, among all the counties in Oregon, Jackson County has sent the second-largest number of suspected fentanyl pills to the state crime lab for analysis. From 2019-2022, the county ranked at the top of that list.

More than 100 American die everyday from opioid overdoses. But there’s a population of patients who have to live with long-term pain and for them, opioids can be a lifeline.

More than 100 American die everyday from opioid overdoses.

Kristian Foden-Vencil / OPB


“We definitely have a drug problem here,” Jackson County District Attorney Beth Heckert said on Tuesday during a meeting with the Jackson County Board of Commissioners. “And we have for a long time because we’re on the I-5 corridor, I think, a lot of different reasons that we have it, but we really do have a serious issue here. Sometimes it’s different than it is up in the major metropolitan areas.”

This summer, Jackson County medical examiners counted 10 overdose deaths in just five days. They believe nine of those were related to the powerful opioid fentanyl.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Jackson County Sheriff Nate Sickler said the county has had about 105 overdose deaths so far this year. He said that compares to approximately 90 two years ago and about 75 deaths last year.

State Rep. Christine Goodwin, R-Canyonville, attended the meeting to discuss the repeal of Measure 110. That ballot measure passed in 2020 and aimed to address drug addiction through increased treatment and recovery efforts. It also decriminalized small amounts of illicit drugs for personal use.


The Jackson County Commissioners called for a repeal of the measure this summer, saying it’s led to an increase in overdose deaths and criminal activity.

“It has resulted in about a doubling in overdose deaths. It’s resulted in higher drug use. It’s resulted in Oregon being basically a destination for a lot of hard drug users to come and use without being hassled,” Commissioner Rick Dyer said in August.

On Tuesday, Sickler said his department has seen an increase in violent crime over the last few years.

“I do think there are some other factors in our county that do contribute to that so I don’t want to say that Measure 110 is solely responsible. But it certainly is higher than it’s been in years past when we’ve had similar circumstances. So Measure 110 does certainly seem to contribute significantly to our increase in violent crime,” he said.

Coos County and Medford have also recently called for the repeal of Measure 110. The Clackamas County Board of Commissioners will ask voters next spring if the measure should be repealed, according to the Oregonian.

“What we’ve really learned in the Measure 110 experiment, I’ll call it, is that it was sold as ‘all these people are wanting to get into treatment, and they can’t because of the stigma of being in the criminal justice system.’ And in fact what we learned is that people do need the incentivized system of kind of the carrot and the stick,” Heckert said Tuesday.

Opioid use has been a growing issue in the region for years, especially with the increased use of the synthetic opioid fentanyl. According to the commissioners’ order this summer, overdose deaths in Oregon have jumped from 585 in 2020 to 1,161 in 2022.

Meanwhile, a study published in April by Portland-based research firm DHM Research shows about two-thirds of Oregon voters support bringing back criminal penalties for drug possession, and a majority of Oregon voters think Measure 110 has been bad for the state.