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Four suspects arrested amid investigation into string of overdoses in Washington County

The Washington County Sheriff's Office said the county has seen 15 suspected overdose cases in the past five days, five of which were fatal.

BEAVERTON, Ore. — Police arrested four suspects and seized more than 10 pounds of powder and pills that tested positive for fentanyl following a search Wednesday morning at a hotel room in Portland believed to be connected to at least one death in a string of recent overdoses and deaths in Washington County.

The Washington County Sheriff's Office issued an initial warning Thursday morning to the public about the possibility of a particularly dangerous batch of fentanyl circulating on the streets following at least 15 suspected overdoses across the county in the past five days.

According to the latest from law enforcement officials, five of those overdoses were fatal.

On Thursday evening, the sheriff's office said the Westside Interagency Narcotics Team investigated one of the suspected overdose deaths and traced the source of the drugs back through multiple drug dealers, culminating in a search warrant for the Portland hotel room.

Manuel Velazquez-Estrjo, Jorge Rivera-Nunez, Dennis Palma-Hurbina, and Gretsel Ramos-Balladares, all from Honduras, were arrested on unspecified federal drug crimes, according to the sheriff's office.

Investigators also seized 6.25 pounds of a powder that tested positive for fentanyl, 4.24 pounds of multicolored pills that tested positive for fentanyl, 310.5 grams of methamphetamine and $11,707.

Credit: Washington County Sheriff's Office

The search warrant was served with assistance from the Portland Police Bureau, the HIDTA Interdiction Task Force and Homeland Security Investigations.

Seven of the recent overdoses, including two fatalities, were in Beaverton. Another of the fatal overdoses was in Hillsboro. The other seven overdoses, including two fatalities, were in unincorporated areas of the county, according to the initial news release from the sheriff's office.

Fentanyl is suspected in all of the cases. The spate of overdoses could indicate the presence of a batch of fentanyl that is exceptionally dangerous, and users should be aware of that possibility, the sheriff's office said.

A Beaverton police spokesman elaborated on the potential specifics of the danger. Although the state crime lab is still analyzing evidence, Officer Matt Henderson said they believe fentanyl currently on the street may contain another strong synthetic opiod called benzimidazole, and also the horse tranquilizer xylazine, commonly called "Tranq."

Henderson said Narcan is not effective in reviving someone overdosing on the horse tranquilizer, and fentanyl laced with benzimidazole makes Narcan less effective — often requiring numerous doses of the antidote.  

"I feel like this message has to evolve and we have to speak directly to people who may be using this drug that's on the street now, this pill or this powder — you don't know what's in it and it could kill you," said Henderson.

Each overdose drew a response from either the sheriff's office or the Beaverton or Hillsboro police departments. All of the cases are being investigated by the Westside Interagency Narcotics Team and the Washington County Medical Examiner.

Portland police issued a similar warning last month after the city saw eight suspected overdose deaths in one weekend, six of which were likely due to fentanyl. Police said the culprit in some of those cases may have been a blend of cocaine and fentanyl that the users mistakenly believed was pure cocaine.

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