According To Experts, Oregon’s Innovative Approach To Drug Addiction Needs To Be Strengthened And Has Flaws

A day after the Oregon Health Authority declared a new era in the state’s approach to drug addiction had begun, experts warned legislators that the drug pandemic in the state is deteriorating while its new approach lacks essential components to end the crisis.

The state’s shift away from criminalizing those with addiction issues and toward enhancing medical and social services, according to Keith Humphreys, director of the Stanford Network on Addiction Policy, based at Stanford University in California, lacks a push for people to stop using drugs and seek treatment.

In an informational session with the Senate judiciary committee on Wednesday, Humphreys stated that “we need treatment and prevention policies that really reduce drug use, as well as harm reduction programs that understand the need to protect communities from the consequences of drug use.”

The goal of harm reduction initiatives, such as clean needle exchanges and providing naloxone to reverse an overdose, is to prolong life rather than discourage drug use.

“Oregon should expect increased drug use, addiction, and harms to communities if it continues on its current course of failing to complement successful harm reduction with robust prevention and treatment measures, according to Humphreys.

With the passage of Measure 110 in November 2020, Oregon became the first state in the nation to legalize the possession of small amounts of illegal narcotics while allocating hundreds of millions of dollars to medical and social support. A year later than expected, the state revealed on Tuesday that it had distributed more than $260 million to establish addiction and social services support in every county. Meanwhile, methamphetamine and fentanyl-laced lethal tablets are flooding the state, luring and murdering an increasing number of youths.

The committee was informed by Dr. Todd Korthuis, director of addiction medicine at Oregon Health & Science University, that the state’s drug addiction death toll is rising.

The two illegal substances that individuals use most frequently in Oregon today are fentanyl and methamphetamine, which are frequently laced with fentanyl, according to Korthuis. This is causing a health crisis that is becoming worse right in front of our eyes.

As an illustration, he stated that in the 12 months ending in April 2022, 1,114 Oregonians had passed away from an overdose, which represented a 19% rise over the year prior and a double increase in motor vehicle deaths. Between 2019 and 2021, the number of teen overdose deaths tripled, going from 10 to 31, with part of those deaths attributable to popping fake tablets, which are sold in rainbow colors to attract children.

Those who survive experiments may develop addictions very fast, according to Korthuis.

He claimed that during the past ten years, the number of patients with diseases brought on by contaminated needles had increased six-fold, costing the hospital $150 million annually.

“Our addiction treatment system has been outrun by these developments, despite the best efforts and good intentions of many,” Korthuis said.

According to experts, Oregon’s treatment system is still understaffed and underfunded. The demand cannot be met by more than half of the state’s addiction treatment programs, and none of Oregon’s four residential institutions for minors provide drugs like buprenorphine to treat opioid addiction, according to Korthuis.

Although he noted that Measure 110 had reduced drug-related arrests by almost 90%, he claimed that there had been no increase in the demand for treatment as a result.

Oregon's Innovative Approach To Drug Addiction
Oregon’s Innovative Approach To Drug Addiction

Citations Ignored

In accordance with the law, people who are apprehended for possessing a tiny amount of drugs are given a citation, not accused of a crime, and fined $100. If the person requests a treatment evaluation and presents that to the court within 45 days, the court will dismiss the citation. A hotline number is provided to them so they can be assessed.

The method was designed to prevent addicts from going to jail and to motivate them to seek treatment. But it hasn’t taken place.

Only 8% of the approximately 3,500 offenses between February 1, 2021, and September 19, 2022, were dismissed because the suspect requested an evaluation, according to Phillip Lemman, Oregon’s deputy state court administrator, who testified before the committee. Most people disregard the procedure.

Lemman stated that 70% of convictions fail to appear in court.

Sen. Kim Thatcher, a Republican from Keizer, expressed shock.

Thatcher responded, “It doesn’t feel like it’s working.

The Oregon Health Authority’s Patrick Allen pleaded with lawmakers to give the system time to function. He said that the state had just finished supporting county-level networks that offer assistance with harm reduction, treatment, housing, and jobs. These services are provided without charge to impoverished areas and people of color, but they do not cover the cost of medical care or prescription drugs that are covered by Medicaid or private insurance.

According to Humphreys, one of the primary issues with Oregon’s strategy is that it excludes police enforcement. According to him, addiction is a medical condition, but unlike sickle cell anemia or persistent pain, it has neurological benefits, such as the ability to relieve withdrawal symptoms or exhilaration.

Without external pressure from family, friends, employers, healthcare professionals, or the law, Humphreys noted, addicted persons “often do not seek treatment and rehabilitation.” This is significant because Oregon has eliminated all legal incentives to abstain from drugs and seek treatment.

According to him, addiction has an impact on the neighborhood through drug-related crime and people acting out against others when under the influence of drugs.

According to Humphreys, “harm reduction for drug users does not inevitably translate into harm reduction for everyone else.” “We need harm reduction programs that acknowledge the need to protect communities from the harms of drug use as well as treatment and preventive strategies that genuinely reduce drug use.”

He demanded that Oregon utilize the police to dismantle “open-air drug marketplaces,” or drug dealers who gather in residential areas.

As a result of this strategy, those who develop an addiction and are arrested for crimes other than drug possessionβ€”such as auto theft, catalytic converter theft, robbery, assault, or vandalismβ€”will also face legal consequences, according to Humphreys.

With or without treatment, Humphreys continued, “Swift, certain, and equitable types of community supervision can be employed to minimize substance use.”

Humphreys agreed that racial profiling would not be a desirable thing, but Sen. James Manning, D-Eugene and a former correctional officer, warned that a police crackdown on people seen assembling in communities and suspected of selling narcotics may result in racial profiling.

Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, chair of the judiciary committee, said he was encouraged by Measure 110’s support of peers and Korthuis’ testimony that peers, or individuals in addiction recovery, were “highly effective at engaging people who use drugs in treatment,” and he urged lawmakers to continue modifying Measure 110 and give it time.

Prozanski stated, “This is an opportunity for us to work together, smooth out some of the rough edges and perhaps in another year or two we will see results that voters intended and that we will actually have better results than we present.”

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