After rocky start, hopes Oregon drug decriminalization will be in place – Smithers Interior News

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Two years after Oregonians voted decriminalize hard drugs and spend hundreds of millions of dollars on treatment, few people have requested the services and the state has been slow to get the funds through.

When voters adopted the state pioneer Drug Treatment and Recovery Act in 2020, the focus has been as much on treating as on decriminalizing the possession of quantities of heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, and other drugs for personal use.

But Oregon still has one of the highest dependency rates in the country. Fatal overdoses increased by almost 20% over the previous year, with more than a thousand deaths. More than half of drug treatment programs in the state don’t have the capacity to meet demand because they don’t have enough staff and funding, according to testimony before lawmakers.

Supporters want more states to follow Oregon’s lead, saying decriminalization reduces the stigma of addiction and keeps people who use drugs from going to jail and struggling with criminal records judicial. Oregon’s situation will almost certainly be considered if another state considers decriminalizing.

Steve Allen, director of behavioral health at the Oregon Health Authority, acknowledged the rocky start, even as he announced a “true milestone” had been reached, with more than $302 million sent to facilities to help people get rid of drugs, or at least use the safest ones.

“The road to get here was not easy. Oregon is the first state to try such a bold and transformative approach,” Allen told a state Senate committee on Wednesday.

One expert, however, told lawmakers the effort was doomed unless people with addictions were pushed into treatment.

“If there is no formal or informal pressure on addicted people to seek treatment and recover and thus stop using drugs, we should expect high rates of drug use, of addiction and the harm that comes with it,” said Keith Humphreys, an addiction researcher and professor at Stanford. University and former Senior Advisor to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Of 16,000 people who accessed services in the first year of decriminalization, only 0.85 percent started treatment, the health authority said. A total of 60% received “harm reduction” such as needle exchanges and overdose medication. Another 15% got help with their housing needs and 12% got support from their peers.

The Drug Treatment and Recovery Act, also known as Measure 110, has become a campaign issue this year as Republicans seek to wrest the governorship from Democrats, who have held it since 1987.

“I voted no on Measure 110 because decriminalizing hard drugs like heroin and methamphetamine was and is a terrible idea,” said GOP candidate Christine Drazan, who supports the demand for voters in the US. repeal. “As expected, it made our addiction crisis worse, not better.”

Unaffiliated candidate Betsy Johnson, a veteran former lawmaker, said she would work to repeal what she called a “failed experiment”.

A spokeswoman for Democratic candidate Tina Kotek, a former House speaker, said Drazan and Johnson “want to go against the will of voters. … Oregonians don’t want to go back.

“As governor, Tina will ensure the state delivers what voters have been asking for: expanded statewide recovery services,” spokeswoman Katie Wertheimer said.

Under the law, people receive a citation, with the maximum $100 fine waived if they call a hotline for a health assessment. But most of the more than 3,100 tickets issued so far have been ignored, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported. Few people called the hotline.

Tera Hurst, executive director of the Oregon Health Justice Recovery Alliance, which focuses on implementing Measure 110, said forced treatment is ineffective. Hurst said it was important to focus on “just building a system of care to make sure people who need access can get it.”

Allen called the spending of millions of dollars — which come from taxes on Oregon’s legal marijuana industry — a “pivotal moment.”

“Measure 110 is underway and will provide essential supports and services to individuals, families and communities,” he told the Senate committee.

However, it will take time to use the funds to expand the services.

Centro Latino Americano, a nonprofit serving Latino immigrant families, plans to use its $4.5 million share to move processing services to a larger space and hire more staff, said said director Basilio Sandoval.

“Measurement 110 allows us to provide this service for free,” Sandoval said. “It allows us to reach people we previously couldn’t serve due to a lack of insurance.”

League of Oregon Cities lobbyist Scott Winkels said residents are running out of patience.

“People are going to need to see progress,” Winkels said. “If you live in a community where you find needles, how many times do you need to see a needle in a park before you lose your temper?”

Andrew Selsky, The Associated Press

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