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Few Entering Drug Treatment Under Oregon's Decriminalization Law

The streets of downtown Portland, Or., resemble an open-air drug market. Heroin, meth and fentanyl use is rampant and often visible on city streets. Police officers drive by homeless addicts buying and using. The signs of drug addiction are increasing throughout the state, reports Fox News. Oregon ranks second-highest among U.S. states for substance abuse, with nearly one in five adults addicted. In 2020, voters overwhelmingly passed Measure 110. The Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act won 58 percent of the votes and decriminalized possession of small amounts of hard drugs such as heroin, meth, cocaine and fentanyl. The law made possession of those substances the equivalent of a traffic ticket punishable by a maximum $100 fine. The fine is dismissed when someone calls a help hotline, Lines for Life, and completes a health assessment.

Sixteen months into this first-in-the-nation experiment, the numbers paint a bleak picture.

Drug overdose deaths hit an all-time high in 2021 at 1069, a 41 percent increase from 2020. Very few people are getting into treatment. After one year, just 136 people had entered treatment, fewer than one percent of those helped by Measure 110. David Murray of the Hudson Institute, who advised drug czars in two presidential administrations, called it "A tragedy and a self-inflicted wound." Through May, police throughout the state had written 2,576 drug possession tickets since Measure 110 was enacted. Seventy-five percent of the tickets resulted in convictions, most because the offender never showed up in court. Dwight Holton of Lines for Life said only 116 people have called the help hotline. Sixty-six just wanted to void their tickets. He said 26 were already in services of some kind and didn’t want any more. "About 20% — 24 people — were not previously involved in (addiction) services and wanted resources, so we connected them to relevant services," Holton says.


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A daily report co-sponsored by Arizona State University, Criminal Justice Journalists, and the National Criminal Justice Association

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