For the past two and a half years, Oregon has been trying an unusual experiment to stem soaring rates of addiction and overdose deaths. People caught with small amounts of illicit drugs for “personal use,” including fentanyl and methamphetamine, are fined just $100 — a sanction that can be waived if they participate in a drug screening and health assessment. Since then, Oregon’s overdose rates have only grown, the New York Times reports The aim was to reserve prosecutions for large-scale dealers and address addiction primarily as a public health emergency. When the proposal, known as Measure 110, was approved by nearly 60 percent of Oregon voters in November 2020, the pandemic had already emptied downtown Portland of workers and tourists. The street population was growing, especially after the anti-police protests that had spread that summer.
Within months of the measure taking effect in February 2021, open-air drug use, long in the shadows, burst into full view, with people sitting in circles in parks or leaning against street signs, smoking fentanyl crushed on tin foil. Now, tents of unhoused people line many sidewalks in Portland. Monthslong waiting lists for treatment continue to lengthen. Some politicians and community groups are calling for Measure 110 to be replaced with tough fentanyl possession laws. Others are pleading to give it more time and resources. Police officer David Baer patrols downtown on a mountain bike, armed with a gun, a citation pad and the overdose-reversal drug Narcan. He spends his shift arresting street dealers carrying large quantities of blue fentanyl pills, writing $100 citation tickets for people injecting or smoking drugs in public and administering Narcan to those nodding out, an emergency he encounters at least once a day.