Is Measure 110 effective?

For hours on Feb. 7, lawmakers heard stories from various Oregonians who have lost those close to them due to drug abuse. 

Many, through their stories, plead with lawmakers to stop pursuing a return to criminal penalties and jail time for drug possession, regardless if mandatory treatment followed. 

One of the first items to be discussed in the legislative short session that began on Feb. 5, there has been a significant amount of discussion from both parties about Measure 110’s effectiveness. 

But what does the measure actually do? 

In a referendum passed in Nov. 2020, Oregonians voted in Measure 110 or the Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act. 

The measure, according to lawmakers, represents an attempt to address drug addiction in a more health-based manner rather than criminally. 

The measure would do this by expanding access to treatment, decriminalizing possession of hard drugs in favor of community-based police responses to addiction and saving municipalities from having to deal with the expensive process of jailing and convicting people for drug possession crimes as well as taking cannabis tax money and putting it towards addiction recovery. 

The idea of treating hard drug use as a medical issue rather than a criminal one is not an new notion and has received significant attention in countries like Portugal, who utilized such policies after a drug crisis in the early 1990s made Portugal have the highest rate of IV drug use in the European Union in 1999. 

In 2000, lawmakers instituted new policies to address drug use by decriminalizing its usage as well as investing in harm reduction sites as well as after-care societal reintegration for former addicts, all with promising results, such as a 60% reduction in drug use from 2001 to 2008 as well as a nearly 90% reduction in HIV-related drug infections, according to the Portugal Institute for Drugs and Drug Addiction. 

Here in Oregon, a variety of results have been gathered. 

In a 2023 statement, assistant clinical professor at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine Corey Davis, described how an analysis of U.S. decriminalization efforts suggested “that state decriminalization policies do not lead to increases in overdose deaths.” 

However, a 2023 statement from the Journal of Health Economics found that after the passing of the measure, there were 182 (23%) more unintentional overdose deaths in Oregon in 2021, though this study does not incorporate the variable of the increased amount of fentanyl in Oregon that became more prevalent in 2019 and has greatly increased the rates of accidental overdoses in general. 

A 2024 report from OHA shows that, in the last 12 months, substance use treatment providers reported 143% more client encounters, and that the largest overall gains were for client screening for people seeking Measure 110 network services at 298%. 

Housing services provided to clients grew by 296% and the bill supported employment services provided to clients by an increased 286%. These employment opportunities are made available to people seeking substance use treatment, often as a means of providing stability and keeping them in treatment. 

The same report also showed that BHRN providers reported 159,000 people seeking substance abuse treatment and more than 149,000 encounters for people seeking harm reduction services. 

Regardless of data though, what is apparent is that many Oregonian voters have a severe distaste for the measure now. 

A 2023 poll conducted by the Portland-based DHM Research firm, showed that nearly 63% of respondents supported minor tweaks to the measure by adding criminal punishments for hard drug possession and to continue funding drug addiction services. 

In response, lawmakers have proposed separate yet similar bills in order to address the issue. 

Republicans are supporting HB 4036, an alternative that would make drug possession a class A misdemeanor that could carry a penalty of up to a year in jail alongside a $6,250 fine and mandatory drug treatment were they to need it. 

The bill would also provide the option of treatment and probation in order to avoid jail time, create a grant program for cities to create opioid response teams as well as create tougher penalties for people who deal or manufacture the drugs. 

Oregon State Representative Kevin Mannix (R-21) has made several public comments about Measure 110 and the work that it still requires. 

Mannix commented during a FOX News interview that “No one realized how the lack of any accountability would lead to the terrible situations we are dealing with now.”

Democrats are pushing HB 4002, which would make drug possession a class C misdemeanor and carry up to 30 days in jail. 

Under this bill, those charged could avoid the conviction if they completed a diversion program which entails screening and showing up to follow-on appointment for treatment. 

The bill would also expand the amount of recovery housing available as well expanding health and welfare holds from 48 to 72 hours of intoxicated individuals in a treatment of sobering areas. 

While there are similarities to these two bills the starkest differences lie in the amount of time individuals can be jailed for as well as how treatment is approached. 

Jail time, which both parties are offering, has several deleterious effects such as contributing to more stigma which can further deter people from seeking voluntary health service care in addition to those who report substance abuse issues as being treated worse by doctors, according to the Health Justice Recovery Alliance, an Oregon-based advocacy agency. 

Another issue deals with the issue of treatment availability in prisons.

A 2010 NIH study displayed that for many inmates in the U.S., drug education, not treatment was the most common addiction service provided and while treatment during and after incarceration reduced drug-related crime, less than 20% of inmates with a dependence issue received formal treatment. 

In order to combat these issues, the Oregon legislature created SB 755 which established stronger addiction treatment practices through Behavioral Health Resource Networks (BHRNs). 

A BHRN is an entity or group which works together to provide comprehensive and community-based services for those with substance abuse issues by offering harm reduction services, housing support, low-barrier substance use disorder treatment and individualized treatment plans for patients. 

The addition came in order to address the state of drug treatment availability in which Oregon ranked last out of 50 states in regards to access to treatment for drug abuse, according to Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) data. 

In addition to the moral and logistic issues presented, the associated costs with incarcerating drug users is high. 

According to a 2020 review by the National Institute of Corrections, the average cost per inmate in Oregon was more than $51,000 per year. 

This cost does not include the extra associated costs on cities from police departments as they search out and book drug users. 

While the Republican bill mandates treatment for those arrested in lieu of jail time, the Democrat bill only recommends those who may need treatment go though does not appear to make it mandatory. 

A National Institutes of Health (NIH) meta-analysis found that, despite its widespread implementation, compulsory treatment approaches for those experiencing addiction are not effective and, in some cases, can cause further harm. 

Oppositely, while not mandating treatment, Democrats may not be properly addressing the issue as currently, their bill does not increase the amount of treatment that is accessible for those who need it. 

Another option not seen here though, in part from Oregon Health Authority (OHA) data, revolves around providing housing as a form of substance abuse treatment. 

With access to substance abuse treatment as a noted issue for Oregonians in the past, it is critical to ensure that demographics who would be primarily affected by these laws, such as the homeless, are provided more opputtunities to succeed. 

Creating stability through housing, in many cases, provides this increased benefit to those trying to deal with difficult issues, like substance abuse, which may also be someone’s only comfort. 

George Bond, a homeless Keizer resident, made an interesting point that highlights this as it serves as a trigger for many homeless in regards to drug use. 

“The main cause of why people stay homeless in Keizer, and Salem especially, is drugs,” Bond said. 

What may be the case for some is that, without a consistent place to call home that is indoors, drug treatment that is offered or forced may not be as effective as if it comes with a way to help get out of their current circumstance. 

A 2023 NIH NIH study about housing as an additional form of treatment determined that having housing strongly correlated to a reduction in emergency room visits as well as increased engagement with healthcare providers for those dealing with addiction. 

Another report from the Center on Budget and Policy priorities found that a lack of housing, as well as the threat of losing it, acts as a major trigger to restart or continue substance abuse. 

With both voters and lawmakers agreeing that something needs to change, the question then falls to if lawmakers are changing the right things. 

Contact Quinn Stoddard
[email protected] or 503-390-105

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