It’s time for a crackdown on public drug use

Sep 7, 2023

With the illegal use of fentanyl skyrocketing across the U.S. and here in the Pacific Northwest, TriMet recently joined four transit agencies in Washington State to study fentanyl and methamphetamine levels in the air and on surfaces of transit vehicles. Specifically, we wanted to know what levels of drug smoke and surface residue people might encounter, as we work to keep drug use off our buses and trains.

So, in June, University of Washington researchers tested the air and surfaces on several MAX trains that travel through areas where drug smoking incidents had previously been reported.

The results aren’t too surprising: Many samples tested positive for fentanyl, meth and/or cocaine. However, the concentration of drug residue in the air and surface samples was extremely low, according to public health experts, and they say it’s not a health risk to TriMet riders or employees.

Although the traces of residue found were very low, we want to keep drugs off our transit system entirely. We know public drug use is a serious concern for our riders and employees, and it undoubtedly makes TriMet a less appealing travel option. Everyone deserves to enjoy our public spaces and use our public services safely without being exposed to illegal drug use.

But Oregon law poses challenges for keeping the smoking of fentanyl and meth out of public spaces, such as transit.

TriMet and our union, the Amalgamated Transit Union 757, continue to call on state and local officials and lawmakers for policy changes and enforcement to curb what has become an epidemic of rampant public consumption of illicit drugs in our region.

For our part, here’s what we’re doing to combat drug use on our system:

  • Smoking of any kind — whether it’s nicotine or illicit drugs — is prohibited on TriMet. That includes buses and trains, MAX and WES platforms, transit centers, elevators and Park & Rides. Those caught smoking face a citation and fine of up to $175 or exclusion. If you see someone smoking on board, please notify the operator immediately.
  • We’ve doubled our safety and security budget since 2020.
  • We significantly increased security personnel for more on-board presence, doubling the number of security personnel since the start of 2022.
  • We added a Safety Response Team that works to connect people in need with shelters, mental health resources and addiction services.
  • We partnered with law enforcement agencies to increase safety missions around transit centers where help is needed.
  • We updated our cleaning procedures so that workers wipe down touchpoints on vehicles every night.
  • We address smoke on board when it is reported.
  • We updated the TriMet Code (which defines the rules that are legally enforceable on transit) to include non-criminal violations of laws or ordinance as actions prohibited on TriMet. Since possessing a small amount of drugs and drug use are now categorized as a violation under Oregon law (ORS Chapter 153), by prohibiting violations of those activities, our security personnel can further address the behavior with a citation or exclusion.

We’ll continue doing everything we can to keep drug use off of our buses and trains. But we can’t do it alone — and we urge our state and local leaders and our law enforcement partners to address drugs and addiction in our community.