Oregon Drug Experiment Failing?
Analysis. Oregon is at the forefront of a radical new way to deal with drugs — one that minimizes punishments for substance abuse. Advocates of this approach hope to help drug-ridden communities by emphasizing treatment programs. But recent reports suggest the experiment is failing.
You may remember that two years ago drugs — especially marijuana — had a strong day at voting booths in states around the country. But Oregon went further than all of them. In addition approving psychedelic mushrooms, Oregonians made their state the first in the U.S. to decriminalize possession of hard drugs like cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamines.
The Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act, which is also known as Measure 110, lifted the threat of jail time for those found with small amounts of the hard drugs. Instead voters decided to make the penalty for drug possession more akin to a parking ticket. Police can write citations up to $100 and those can be expunged if the ticketed individual accepts an invitation to call a toll-free drug abuse screening hotline.
Sadly, the results of this experiment are so far not promising. FOX News reported in June that of 2,576 drug possession tickets police had by then written, 75 percent ended in convictions largely because the offenders ignored them and never showed in court. Only 116 individuals called the hotline and only 24 of them were open to new treatment services.
Meanwhile, FOX suggests drug addiction is on the rise in Oregon and said Portland streets “resemble an open-air drug market” where police simply drive by drug sales and use.
Those concerns were underscored again this month at an Oregon Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in the state’s capital. Dr. Todd Korthuis, a leader on addiction at Oregon Health & Science University, pointed legislators to data showing Oregon at the top of the pack among U.S. states for both drug abuse and neglect of drug treatment. He also pointed to a nearly 20 percent increase in drug overdose deaths since last year — a number double that of vehicle fatalities.
“Fentanyl and methamphetamine, which is often contaminated with fentanyl, are now the most common illegal drugs that people use in Oregon,” Korthuis said. “This is leading to a health crisis that is worsening before our eyes.”
Unlike other maladies that doctors try to help treat, drugs tend to make people feel good inside — at least for a time. And another witness at the hearing suggested Oregon’s new approach was struggling because it failed to give drug users the push they need to find help.
Keith Humphreys, an expert on addiction at Stanford University who previously advised the Bush and Obama administrations, said, “Addicted people usually do not seek treatment and recovery without external pressure from family, friends, employers, health care providers, or the law. This matters because Oregon has removed all legal pressure to stop drug use and seek treatment.”
Humphreys said that without pressure on drug addicts, continued abuse, addiction, “and attendant harm” are to be expected.
“We need treatment and prevention policies that actually reduce drug use, as well as harm reduction programs that recognize the need to protect communities from the harms of drug use,” Humphreys added.
Perhaps predictably, the defenders of Oregon’s new approach want more time to prove their system works. The state just invested hundreds of millions of dollars in treatment centers. But some critics think the Measure 110 system itself is faulty.
Mike Marshall, director of Oregon Recovers, told FOX News in June, “It was never designed to reduce our addiction rates, so it was never designed to deal with our addiction crisis. It was always meant to deal with the war on drugs.”
That is perhaps a telling observation. The decades-old war on drugs is seen by numerous progressive activists as a failure that has neither quelled drug availability nor use. They also point out that it has disproportionately targeted drug users in minority communities. Rather than continue the law enforcement-led battle against drugs, some groups like the Soros-founded Open Society Foundations argue for drug decriminalization (Oregon’s current approach) and even legal regulated drug markets.
Interestingly, leaders at the libertarian Cato Institute also advocate for a more permissive drug policy than Oregon currently has. “Oregon can improve its policy — and save lives — by legalizing the manufacture, distribution, and sale of drugs, rather than just decriminalizing use,” one of its posts said this month.
If these positions are striking to you, you are not alone. As one whose elementary school class participated in an early version of the police-facilitated DARE program, it is shocking to me how quickly leaders in our country appears to be moving away from resisting drugs altogether.
This is a live issue in Washington, D.C., and state capitals around the country. The U.S. House of Representatives approved a bill in April to decriminalize marijuana and more states are considering Oregon’s broader decriminalization policy.
I believe this is a dangerous trend. What is on your heart when it comes to the scourge of drug abuse in our nation? Will you pray for America today?
What do you think of the decriminalization policy? Share your thoughts and prayers below.
Aaron Mercer is a Contributing Writer with two decades of experience in Washington, D.C.’s public policy arena. Photo Credit: Canva.
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