Young Man’s Tragic Death Paints Grim Picture of Drug Overdosing Aftermath

The tragic story of one young man’s death by fentanyl overdose paints a grim picture of the damaging effects this opioid has had on the lives of thousands of Oregonians.

In February 2024, it was reported that deaths by fentanyl overdose in the state had risen by a staggering 1,500% since the start of the pandemic. This represents the largest increase recorded in the United States, according to data released by the federal government. By the end of September, fentanyl overdoses had claimed the lives of 1,268 people in the state.


Lawmakers Blame Drug Decriminalization for Oregon’s Nationwide Opioid Death Rate

Many lawmakers believe that the alarming increase in deaths by drug overdoses was the outcome of a decision to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of opioids such as fentanyl, heroin, and meth from a criminal offense to a misdemeanor. Oregon’s groundbreaking “experiment,” originally approved by public vote in 2022, was recently retracted. Offenders will now face possible jail terms of six months instead of the previous slap on the wrist.

The telling of Josh Wallner-Sentle’s death by fentanyl overdosing is a reality check of what has been happening on the streets of cities and towns in Southern Oregon over the last two years. Josh (27), who died a year ago, was one of more than 100 fatal overdoses recorded in Jackson County alone in 2023.

As a young child, Josh was plagued by stomach ailments and was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer at the age of 17. After undergoing surgery and chemotherapy he nevertheless graduated from Ashland High School with the help of a private tutor. After traveling abroad, Josh returned to Ashland where he worked at a cannabis dispensary, and at the time of his death as a home builder after joining his father’s business.


Fentanyl is “Overwhelming” Oregon Communities

Fentanyl is having an “overwhelming” effect on Oregon communities says Sergeant Josh Reimer of Medford’s narcotics and gang task force, MADGE, adding that the opioid has replaced heroin as the drug of choice. He says the increase in the number of counterfeit fentanyl pills seized by MADGE increased by 700% from 2022 to 2023, and an increase of 93% in fentanyl powder seizures.

Reimer says the bulk of fentanyl consumed in Oregon originates from the San Francisco Bay Area, an easy drive on the I-5 highway, where users do not have to establish “relationships” with dealers. The main source of fentanyl purchases is the Tenderloin District, described as San Francisco’s most dangerous suburb. Reamer said he had personally visited the area and could have bought as much fentanyl as he could afford without having to establish a “relationship” with the source.

Read: 3 Southern Oregon Drug Traffickers Headed For Federal Prison

Fentanyl made its first appearance in the Rogue Valley in 2019. Reimer says most of the fentanyl was disguised as counterfeit Percocet or OxyContin pills. Lately, fentanyl in powder form has become more common in the area and is found in drugs like cocaine and methamphetamines. Reimer says the grim reality is that these illicit drugs are vulnerable to contamination.

Fentanyl is a relatively cheap and powerful opioid manufactured mainly in Mexico and China before being smuggled into the U.S.



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