Two years after Oregon residents voted to decriminalize hard drugs and dedicate hundreds of millions of dollars to treatment, few people have requested the services and the state has been slow to channel the funds. When voters passed the state’s pioneering Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act in 2020, the emphasis was on treatment as much as on decriminalizing possession of personal-use amounts of heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and other drugs. Oregon still has among the highest addiction rates in the country. Fatal overdoses have increased almost twenty percent over the previous year, with over a thousand dead. Over half of addiction treatment programs in the state lack capacity to meet demand because they don’t have enough staffing and funding, the Associated Press reports.
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 being saddled with criminal records. How Oregon is faring will almost certainly be taken into account if another state considers decriminalizing. Steve Allen, behavioral health director of the Oregon Health Authority, acknowledged the rocky start, even as he announced a “true milestone” has been reached, with more than $302 million being sent to facilities to help people get off drugs, or at least use them more safely. “The road to get here has not been easy. Oregon is the first state to try such a bold and transformative approach,” Allen told a state Senate committee.