Approaching two years of Drug Decriminalization in Oregon

Written by Caden Hicks

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Picture by: Caden Hicks 

In Oregon, drug use is a widespread problem that the state has tried to approach in various different ways. In 1971, U.S. President Richard Nixon declared the “war on drugs”, citing drug abuse as public enemy number one. The federal government-led initiative aimed to combat illegal drug use by increasing penalties, enforcement, and incarceration for drug related offenses. Since the inception of the War on Drugs campaign, laws and policies have been put in place which facilitate the use of psychoactive drugs, though penalizing addiction. The social norms which resulted from this era stigmatized addiction as a choice rather than a medical condition. 

In 2009, President Barack Obama had set a campaign promise to try to improve the state of Oregon’s drug abuse problem. From 2009-2010, Oregon was one of the top ten states for drug abuse in several categories. President Obama had used a national framework to expand statewide drug monitoring programs. This shed a light on the issues that Oregon was facing, and began to uncover the difficulties that would surface in the coming years. 

From 2010 and beyond, agencies criminalizing this health condition have created a system that cycles people in and out of jail, rather than giving them the tools necessary to help them recover. Different approaches have been implemented throughout Oregon counties to fix this issue; things such as mental health courts and different treatment programs became readily available.

 But have all of these facilities been used to their full potential? 

Oregon Measure 110, the Drug Decriminalization and Addiction Treatment Initiative was an initiative introduced on the ballots in November 2020. The original intention of this initiative was to decrease the frequency of people addicted to drugs getting cycled through the legal system and incentivize individuals with substance abuse disorders to seek treatment. This was to be accomplished by using a combination of revenues from the marijuana industry along with the savings cost in correctional facilities. These funds are meant to support local initiatives and addiction recovery centers.

Measure 110 was passed with 58% approval from Oregon voters, and the initiative took effect on January 1st, 2022. Since then, drug-related arrests have gone down, but little progress has been made in recovery efforts. With substance abuse disorders being so prevalent in Oregon, it has become a public issue that is too large to ignore. 

The passage of Oregon measure 110 in 2020, which decriminalizes drugs up to a personal use amount, is the biggest change in drug-related policy that Oregon has seen. This measure passed because the people of Oregon wanted to try and find ways to decrease drug-related crimes and incarceration. If measure 110 continues to prolong Oregon’s drug problem, it is vital to consider the long-term societal improvements that long-term treatment can provide.

The high percentage of the Oregon population with substance abuse disorders is a public problem as it creates not only financial costs but also social and health-related costs. According to the Oregon Alcohol and Drug Policy Commission, state spending on substance more than quadrupled since 2005—consuming nearly 17% of the entire state budget in 2017. Less than 1% of those funds, however, were used to prevent, treat, or help people recover from substance misuse. The majority of those dollars went to pay for escalating health and social consequences created by the lack of investment in prevention, treatment, and recovery.

Oregon’s rate of substance abuse disorders is among the highest in the country, according to federal estimates. As of 2019,  adults living in Colorado, Vermont, and Washington D.C. experience drug or alcohol dependence at higher rates. Providing Oregon with adequate addiction treatment and recovery can reduce the long-term cost to taxpayers, social impacts,  and overall loss of lives. 

An alternative that could put more use to publicly funded rehabilitation programs is long-term rehabilitation. There are over 20 long-term residential facilities in Oregon, but long-term residential programs and rehabilitation programs are vastly different. Long-term residential programs do not have the adequate staffing and support to continue long-term rehabilitation. Many people cannot afford to do long-term rehabilitation programs due to the high cost. 

Long-term rehab usually involves at least 90 days in a residential treatment setting. Most rehab programs encourage longer durations of stay. Short-term rehab means any program that requires less than three months of treatment. The longer a person stays in treatment, the more benefits they are likely to experience. For example, those who spend 9 to 12 months in drug rehab are more likely to see dramatic improvements in physical health, decision-making abilities, stress management skills, and overall self-sufficiency. 

Substance addiction is a chronic condition that much like diabetes and other chronic illnesses, can be treated with ongoing care and management. Because the brain becomes reliant on drugs to function every day, it takes time for the brain’s neural pathways to reconstruct. Some individuals progress through treatment more quickly or more slowly than others, and that is okay. It is important to remember that recovery is a marathon, not a sprint. 

Tax-payer money can be regenerated, bolstered by marijuana tax revenue, to invest in more long-term rehabilitation in the state of Oregon. Using the public funding available for these long-term rehabilitation programs will be an investment for the mental health of Oregonians. Long-term treatment centers are statistically proven to help to keep people from relapsing, and ultimately contribute to lowering re-incarceration rates. Oregon has no long-term rehabilitation programs in the state. 

Almost two years after the fact, Oregon’s measure 110 continues to fall-short in terms of rehabilitation efforts. Re-evaluating Oregon’s measure 110 would ultimately create a better environment for those in Oregon who may struggle with drug addiction. Long-term treatment facilities can help people who struggle with substance abuse problems and their families who love them. 

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