Overdose deaths plunge in Oregon

From the Oregonian, March 18, 1992

Overdoses of illegal drugs killed 39 Oregonians last year, fewer than half of the record number who died of overdoses in 1990.

Drug deaths are continuing at the lower rate this year, including a significant drop in the number of heroin overdoses.

Dr. Larry V. Lewman, the state medical examiner, credited arrests of heroin smugglers with cutting the supply of high-potency heroin believed to be causing many of the drug deaths.

“I think the logical conclusion is that they’ve dried up the supply with the arrest of several major importers,” Lewman said Tuesday.

Lewman estimated that about 10 persons have died from overdoses in Oregon this year, but specific figures were not available Tuesday.

The 1991 overdoses included 27 cocaine deaths, one methamphetamine overdose and 18 heroin overdoses. Seven of the 39 deaths involved more than one drug.

It was the first time in at least five years that the state’s cocaine overdoses outnumbered heroin deaths, which have dropped dramatically since late 1990.

A total of 83 Oregonians died of drug overdoses in 1990, including 59 heroin deaths.

Drug investigators arrested Carlos Humberto Orantes-Arriaga in November 1990 for smuggling large amounts of unusually pure heroin to the Northwest from his home country of Guatemala.

Authorities said they believed the Guatemalan heroin was responsible for some of the many heroin deaths that year.

In October 1991, a federal judge sentenced Orantes-Arriaga, 28, to life in federal prison for conspiring to distribute heroin. Under the federal sentencing guidelines, the life term means Orantes will die in prison because federal parole no longer exists.