Oregon set to pursue drug decriminalization, treatment measures – Oregon Capital Chronicle

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The decriminalization of drug and addiction treatment programs in Oregon is expected to move forward now that the election is over, handing Democrats key victories.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Christine Drazan and unaffiliated candidate Betsy Johnson have said they want Measure 110 repealed. Approved in 2020, it decriminalized possession of a small amount of illegal drugs with the promise increase addiction treatment services.

Democrat Tina Kotek, who will be Oregon’s next governor, supports the rollout of Measure 110, as do Democratic lawmakers, who will retain control of the Legislative Assembly.

Thousands of lives are at stake: national reports, including this one one from Mental Health Americahave consistently ranked Oregon as having the highest rate or one of the highest rates of people with mental health and addiction issues.

Critics say the measure did little to help while driving up crime rates.

“There seems to be a lot of strong feelings about the measure,” said Alex Kral, epidemiologist and researcher for RTI International, headquartered in North Carolina.

The non-partisan association received a four-year scholarship of Arnold Ventures, a foundation based in Texas, to study the impact of measure 110, which is a first in the country. They visited four unnamed areas in Oregon over the summer — two urban and two rural — and interviewed 34 people, including 20 law enforcement officials. Police officials told RTI researchers their job has become more difficult since Measure 110 came into force in early 2021.

“They used to be able to arrest people who were using drugs and at least threaten them with jail time unless they gave out the names or addresses of the people who were selling them drugs,” Alex said. Kral, epidemiologist and RTI researcher. “They said they felt like it made their job a lot harder trying to catch people who were selling drugs.”

Police officials said drugs are a bigger problem now and have led to an increase in property crime in particular.

But their feelings do not match reality, RTI found.

Since the latest crime statistics were not available, researchers looked at available data for 9-1-1 calls as an indication of crime rates. He studied data from January 2018 to July 2022, giving it three years before the measure was enacted and a year and a half after, in Portland; Seattle, Washington; Boise, Idaho; and Sacramento, California, for comparison with cities that have not decriminalized all illicit drugs.

All 9-1-1 calls in Portland, Seattle, Sacramento and Boise from January 2018 to mid-2020. (RTI International)

They found seasonal variations in all cities, with rates rising in summer and falling in winter, which Kral said is typical. But he said researchers found that the public’s use of the 9-1-1 system didn’t change much after Measure 110 was passed.

“I think a lot of people and the media have been talking about a lot of increases in crime since the 110 vote measure was passed, but this data just doesn’t confirm it,” Kral said.

The researchers also analyzed property crime calls, disorderly conduct calls, and vice calls related to drugs, alcohol, prostitution, and gambling.

Disordered calls to 9-1-1 in Sacramento, Seattle and Portland. (RTI International)
Calls related to alcohol, drugs, prostitution and gambling. (RTI International)
Property crime 9-1-1 calls in Portland, Seattle, Sacramento and Boise. (RTI International)

Property crime calls have increased, but Kral said that likely reflected unrest over the police killing of George Floyd in Minnesota.

“It’s kind of surprising because it goes up in the fall, even into winter there, and that’s usually when you wouldn’t see it go up,” Kral said. “But after last winter it basically went back down.”

Besides the crime, Kral said 9-1-1 calls indicate whether people believe a crime has been committed and whether the police will respond. To differentiate data from perception, researchers began to delve into arrest and other data.

“We’re going to look at all kinds of things, whether drug use has increased and whether drug-related health issues have increased,” Kral said.

A key component will be overdose data, but those numbers are often released a year after deaths because medical examiners must approve them, Kral said.

Researchers will also look at the impact of addiction and harm reduction services. The state is funding Measure 110 services with approximately $300 million in marijuana tax revenue through June 2023. It wasn’t until this summer that the Oregon Health Authority, which oversees the program, approved behavioral health resource networks in each county. They offer a range of services, from health screenings and addiction treatment to housing assistance and employment assistance.

It will take months for this aid to have an impact. RTI will monitor them over the next few years to see if the Oregon experiment works as expected.

“I don’t think any of us really know what to expect,” Kral said. “There are a few other states looking at this stuff and a lot of people are looking to Oregon.”

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