Police: Suspected criminals are swallowing drugs to avoid going to jail

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PORTLAND, Ore. – Portland Police say they’ve got a growing problem on their hands that has spread like wildfire throughthe city over the past 12 to 18 months - suspected criminals swallowing drugs to avoid going to jail.

Sgt. Chris Burley, a spokesperson for the police bureau, says officers seem to run into this problem at least once a day.

Some people swallow drugs; usually heroine. Others, he says, are faking it.

Burley says the practice is putting an unnecessary strain on police and medical resources. Since swallowing drugs can be deadly, police treat each case with an abundance of caution. Swallowing drugs could also stop someone’s heart or stop their breathing.

“Officers contact medical personnel who arrive and most often times, if the person continues to say they swallowed drugs, the person is transported by ambulance to an area hospital for treatment and observation,” said Burley.

The problem for the police bureau, whose resources are already spread thin, is that an officer must stay with that suspect in the hospital at all times. This costs the community an officer.

“Having to take officers off the street to be with people in the hospital because they stated, sometimes fictitiously, that they swallowed some type of drug... it makes it so that it's more difficult to respond to 9-1-1 calls for service in a timely fashion,” said Burley.

It also costs taxpayer money. If someone is taken to the hospital for swallowing drugs, Burley says that person must stay there for a minimum of six hours. Only officers with at least five years of experience can accompany the suspect. An officer with that much experience makes at least $40 per hour, meaning at the very least this costs the police bureau $240 each time it happens. Burley says, when you factor in equipment costs and overtime pay, it’s usually much costlier.

Burley says someone recently spent two-and-a-half days in the hospital, or 60 hours, for swallowing drugs.

The police bureau is now working with the Multnomah County District Attorney, the Portland City Attorney, and the Multnomah County Health Department on how to stop this from happening. They are pursuing potential criminal charges to keep people from using this tactic to avoid jail.

The DA’s office echoed much of what the police bureau said. In a statement sent to KATU News, Senior Deputy District Attorney Nathan Vasquez said, “When someone knowingly falsifies a medical condition to purposefully delay being booked into jail, they are adding an immense strain on the health care industry and on the law enforcement agencies that are responsible for guarding that person in the hospital. The District Attorney’s Office is currently looking at all avenues, including potential criminal charges, to end this abusive practice.”

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