The Hopes Of Oregon’s Drug Decriminalization And Treatment Program Still Hold Up Despite Its Disappointing Start

Only a small number of people have asked for the services, and the state has been slow to use the money, two years after Oregonians decided to decriminalize hard narcotics and allocate hundreds of millions of dollars for treatment.

The state’s groundbreaking Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act, which was approved by voters in 2020, placed equal emphasis on decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, and other narcotics for personal use and on treatment.

However, Oregon continues to have one of the highest rates of addiction in the nation. Over a thousand people have died from fatal overdoses, a nearly 20% increase from the previous year. According to testimony given before lawmakers, more than half of the state’s addiction treatment programs are unable to satisfy demand because they lack the manpower and resources necessary.

Supporters argue that decriminalization removes the stigma associated with addiction and prevents drug users from going to jail and accumulating criminal records. They want more states to follow Oregon’s example. If another state decides to decriminalize, it will almost probably take Oregon’s performance into consideration.

A “true milestone” has been reached, according to Steve Allen, behavioral health director for the Oregon Health Authority, who acknowledged the program’s rocky beginnings while announcing that more than $302 million has been distributed to facilities that assist people in quitting drugs or using them more safely.

“It has not been an easy journey to get here. Allen testified before a state Senate committee on Wednesday that Oregon is the first state to attempt such an audacious and revolutionary approach.

However, one expert cautioned the lawmakers that the attempt would fail unless addicts were encouraged to seek help.

According to Keith Humphreys, an addiction researcher and professor at Stanford University and a former senior adviser in the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, “we should expect continuing high rates of drug use, addiction, and attendant harm if there is no formal or informal pressure on addicted people to seek treatment and recovery and thereby stop using drugs.”

Only 0.85% of the 16,000 persons who used services in the first year after decriminalization entered treatment, according to the health authorities. 60% of the population received “harm reduction” services like syringe exchanges and overdose drugs. 15% more received assistance with housing issues, and 12% more received peer support.

The Hopes Of Oregon's Drug Decriminalization And Treatment
The Hopes Of Oregon’s Drug Decriminalization And Treatment

Measure 110, also known as the Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act, has become a campaign topic this year as Republicans try to unseat Democrats who have held the governorship since 1987.

“Decriminalizing strong narcotics like heroin and meth was and is a poor idea,” said GOP candidate Christine Drazan, who favors asking voters to repeal it. “I voted no on Measure 110.” As predicted, it has worsened rather than improved our addiction epidemic.

Former lawmaker and independent candidate Betsy Johnson said she would work to overturn what she called a “failed experiment.”

Drazan and Johnson, according to a spokesman for Democratic candidate Tina Kotek, a former House speaker “Oregonians do not want to regress, so they do not want to go against the will of the voters.

Speaking through a spokeswoman, Katie Wertheimer, Tina “will ensure that the state is delivering on what voters demanded: expanded recovery programs statewide” as governor.

People are given citations under the statute, but if they phone a hotline for a health assessment, the maximum $100 fee is waived. However, Oregon Public Broadcasting claimed that the majority of the more than 3,100 tickets issued so far had been disregarded. The hotline has not received many calls.

Coerced therapy is useless, according to Tera Hurst, executive director of the Oregon Health Justice Recovery Alliance, which is working to put Measure 110 into action. Hurst advised concentrating on “just creating a system of care to ensure that those who require access may do so.

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