In the community, Special Reports

OUR SERIES: Fentanyl in Malheur County

About this series: Fentanyl is having a deadly impact on Malheur County, and one not well understood. The Enterprise reporting team of Mac Larsen, Isaac Wasserman and Cynthia Liu spent weeks learning about this threat. This series examines that impact. Share your comments and thoughts with an email to Editor Les Zaitz ([email protected]).

SNEAKY KILLER: Fentanyl in Malheur County

Nathaniel Stringer worked for the Malheur County Health Department as a substance use peer recovery mentor when he overdosed on fentanyl last fall, at 35 years old.

He had been in recovery from his own addiction for six years.

“It was an out-of-the-blue situation. You live your recovery every day,” said Hannah Roy, health promotion supervisor at the health department and a life-long friend of Stringer.

The loss of Stringer is still felt in the health department and a sense of loss felt across Malheur County with the rising prevalence of fentanyl-related overdoses and deaths.

Lisa Longoria, principal of Ontario Middle School, in her office on Aug. 4. (The Enterprise/CYNTHIA LIU)

SNEAKY KILLER: Fentanyl in Malheur County – an educator speaks out

It wasn’t something Lisa Longoria, principal of Ontario Middle School, thought she would ever have to train her teachers in.

Constricted pupils, low and raspy speech, lowered temperatures – signs that a student is using fentanyl.

Steven Wolf, a certified recovery mentor for Origin Faith Community’s substance abuse disorders program, sees firsthand the impact of fentanyl in the community. (The Enterprise/CYNTHIA LIU)

SNEAKY KILLER: Fentanyl in Malheur County – a mentor knows the pain

Sometimes, when Steven Wolf arrives for his job as a substance abuse recovery mentor, the client he’s supposed to meet that morning hasn’t arrived for an appointment.

On occasion, Wolf finds out it’s because they died of an overdose. He hears of it via word of mouth from people living on the streets.

Ashley Corder, a Malheur County 9-1-1 dispatcher, at the dispatch center in the Malheur County Sheriff Department in Vale on August 3, 2022. (The Enterprise/ISAAC WASSERMAN)

SNEAKY KILLER: Fentanyl in Malheur County – a dispatcher copes with crises

Fentanyl overdose calls are becoming too routine for Malheur County 911 dispatchers. 

“Place the heel of your hand on the center of the chest between the nipples. Then place your other hand on top of that,” said dispatcher Ashley Corder, her voice calm and steady as she speaks through the phone, rehearsing the steps of CPR. 

Madison Hartung, an emergency room nurse at Saint Alphonsus Hospital in Ontario, sees patients as young as middle school overdosing on fentanyl. (The Enterprise/ISAAC WASSERMAN)

SNEAKY KILLER: Fentanyl in Malheur County – a nurse sees repeat users

Multiple times a week Madison Hartung races the clock to bring her patient back to consciousness in the two-bed trauma center. 

Their body is usually soaked with sweat and their skin is blue because their blood doesn’t have enough oxygen. They are overdosing on fentanyl.

Samantha Chamberlain, ambulance supervisor in Vale, sees firsthand the toll fentanyl is taking on lives in Malheur County. (The Enterprise/CYNTHIA LIU)

SNEAKY KILLER: Fentanyl in Malheur County – a medic trains crews to help

When dispatchers call on Vale Fire and Ambulance to respond to an individual who is unresponsive, unconscious or in cardiac arrest, responders make no assumptions.

“As a training officer, I really caution my EMTs about automatically assuming that it is drugs and that we need to make sure we’re looking at every possibility,” said Samantha Chamberlain, Vale’s ambulance supervisor. “I think with the amount that we’ve seen lately, that does tend to be the forefront of our thought process is that we need to be thinking about whether this could be drugs in any way.”

Deputy Haylee Harding, standing outside the Malheur County Sheriff’s Office on Aug. 19, recalls fentanyl overdose case she encountered during a routine traffic stop. (The Enterprise/CYNTHIA LIU)

SNEAKY KILLER: Fentanyl in Malheur County – A deputy steps up to help

The patrol was like any other. The only thing out of the ordinary was that Deputy Haylee Harding had a high school senior with her for a ride-along. 

“We were just sitting in broad daylight on Southeast 18th Avenue, and I had a car headed toward me and it was going 13 miles an hour over the speed limit,” Harding said. She decided to pull over the vehicle for a routine traffic stop. 

News tip? Contact Editor Les Zaitz: [email protected]

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