Following the drug law reforms in Oregon – which decriminalized possession of all drugs and sent millions of dollars to drug treatment programs – few individuals are utilizing services to help them with their addictions, according to an Associated Press report. According to Oregon Health Authority (OHA) figures, of 16,000 people who accessed services during the first year of decriminalization, only 0.85% entered treatment, 60% received “harm reduction” like syringe exchanges and overdose medications, 15% got housing assistance, and 12% obtained peer support.
Steve Allen, behavioral health director of the OHA, said during testimony before lawmakers last week that the state has sent more than $302 million to facilities to help people with their addiction or help them use drugs safely, such as needle exchanges.
The voter-approved law is the first of its kind in the nation and supporters argued that decriminalization would keep people out of prison and urge them to seek treatment; however, since the passage of the reforms, fatal overdoses increased by nearly 20% over the previous year, the report says.
Under the law, people caught possessing drugs receive a citation, with the maximum $100 fine waived if they call a hotline for a health assessment. However, an investigation by Oregon Public Broadcasting found that most of the more than 3,100 tickets issued so far have been ignored and few people have called the hotline.
During his testimony to lawmakers, Tera Hurst, executive director of Oregon Health Justice Recovery Alliance, which is focused on implementing the voter-approved law, called the millions of dollars in funding – which comes from cannabis taxes – a “pivotal moment” and that as the program is still in its nascent stages it’s important to focus on “just building a system of care to make sure that people who need access can get access.”
“Measure 110 is launching,” he said, “and will provide critical supports and services for people, families, and communities.”
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