Some 6,000 tickets have been issued for drug possession since decriminalization went into effect in 2021, but just 92 people have called and completed assessments needed to connect them to services, according to the nonprofit that operates the helpline.
The broad coalition fell victim to competition for money, the lack of a single, strong champion and a schism between public safety and behavioral health priorities, according to interviews with more than two dozen people directly involved. Also contributing to the demise, they said: a reluctance to expand involuntary holds for intoxicated people, rapid turnover among county health managers and a frosty relationship between the mayor and former county chair.
In the two years after the law took effect, the number of annual overdoses in the state rose by 61 percent, compared with a 13 percent increase nationwide, according to the CDC.
Overdose deaths in Oregon nearly doubled from 2019 to 2022. The National Center for Health Statistics reports overdose deaths in the US rose about 30% following the pandemic — but in Oregon, the increase was about 90%.
When it comes to drug use, Oregon holds an ugly distinction: Its rate of teenagers killed by overdose is growing faster than in any other state. Drug-related deaths among teenagers increased faster in Oregon than anywhere else in the country between 2019 and 2021 — up 666%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Multnomah County Health Department found a massive increase in synthetic drug overdose deaths — reaching over 500% between 2018 and 2022 — while the county has also seen BIPOC communities disproportionately impacted by the deaths, KOIN 6 News has learned. Additionally, Black community members in Multnomah County experience overdose deaths at a 36% higher rate than white community members, the health department said.
Statewide, opioid overdoses tripled between 2019 and 2021, and the situation appears to be getting more dire…But it’s unclear if more citations will result in fewer deaths. That’s because the citations are pushing few people into treatment.
When Portland cops hand out a citation, they pass along a card with a phone number for Lines for Life…they provide both referrals to treatment and a mailed letter that callers can bring to court to waive the $100 fine.
The process takes from about 15 minutes to an hour. But only 32 people in Multnomah County have done it, according to data from Lines for Life. Of those, only five have actually submitted the required paperwork to get their fines waived, according to Multnomah County Circuit Court data obtained by WW. That’s a success rate of around 1%.
According to the CDC, overdose deaths increased by 70% in Oregon between 2020 and 2022, compared to 17% nationally.
Opioid-involved overdoses increased by 98% in Oregon, compared to 19% nationally.
Cocaine-involved overdoses increased by 87% in Oregon, compared to 41% nationally.
Psychostimulant-involved overdoses (meth) increased by 107%, compared to 75% nationally.
Benzodiazepine-involved overdoses increased by 177% in Oregon, compared to an 11% decrease nationally.
A September 2023 study found, “when Oregon decriminalized small amounts of drugs in February 2021, it caused 182 additional unintentional drug overdose deaths to occur in Oregon in 2021. This represents a 23% increase over the number of unintentional drug overdose deaths predicted if Oregon had not decriminalized drugs.”
“But the sticky fact that proponents of decriminalization rarely confront is that addicts are not merely sick people trying to get well, like cancer sufferers in need of chemotherapy. They are people who often will do just about anything to get high, however irrational, self-destructive or, in some cases, criminal their behavior becomes. Addiction may be a disease, but it’s also a lifestyle — one that decriminalization does a lot to facilitate. It’s easier to get high wherever and however you want when the cops are powerless to stop you.”
“‘Portland is a homeless drug addict’s slice of paradise,’ said Noah Nethers, who was living with his girlfriend in a bright orange tent on the sidewalk against a fence of a church, where they shoot and smoke both fentanyl and meth. He ticked off the advantages: He can do drugs wherever he wants and the cops no longer harass him. There are more dealers, scouting for fresh customers moving to paradise. That means drugs are plentiful and cheap.”
“From the 4,000 citations issued in Oregon in the first two years of the policy, fewer than 200 people called the hotline and fewer than 40 were interested in treatment. It has cost taxpayers $7,000 per call.”
“Mingus Mapps, a member of Portland’s city council, supported decriminalization. Now he is more wary, particularly of those pushing patience. ‘You just have to look out on the sidewalks,’ he says, ‘we really don’t have more time.’ Mr. Mapps regrets that Oregon dismantled a system to deal with addiction, albeit a flawed one, without planning what would replace it.”
Oregon modeled Measure 110 on Portugal’s drug decriminalization. They aren’t remotely the same….In other words: all carrot, no stick. Supporters of drug decriminalization sometimes point to Portugal as evidence that treating drug use as a health issue, not a criminal issue, works. Humphreys might agree if he thought Oregon were actually following Portugal’s example.
Last year, Oregon overdose deaths increased 41%, compared to a 16% increase nationwide, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. This coincides with a surge of illicit fentanyl in Oregon. Counterfeit fentanyl tablets manufactured in clandestine labs circulate through drug trafficking routes that target adolescents experimenting with pills and people who regularly use drugs. Illicit fentanyl masquerades as prescription opioid pills, such as “Blues” or “Perc-30s” and contaminates methamphetamine and heroin supplies. It is replacing heroin as the most used illicit opioid. Experience in other parts of the U.S. is similar: fentanyl overdose is now the leading cause of death in young adults, as an analysis of national data by advocacy group Families Against Fentanyl shows.
Portugal, a Model for Oregon’s Measure 110, Is Having Second Thoughts About Drug Decriminalization; The northern city of Porto, like Portland, is struggling with crime and blight, says The Washington Post.
“A newly released national survey suggests the percent of adults who have used illicit drugs increased to 12.8 percent in 2022, up from 7.8 in 2001, though still below European averages,” the paper says. Overdose rates have hit 12-year highs and almost doubled in Lisbon from 2019 to 2023,” the Post says.
Measure 110 program manager resigns, says state was ‘maliciously negligent’ Angela Carter said Oregon Health Authority ignored repeated requests for staffing and resources and fostered secrecy and manipulation as the drug decriminalization law rolled out.
Portland has a homelessness problem. Of the 5,000 homeless individuals in Multnomah County (where the city is located), about 3,000 were unsheltered on the coldest night of the year; around the same number are chronically homeless. It also has a drug problem. The drug-overdose death rate more than doubled between 2018 and 2021. In 2021, more than one in every 2,000 county residents died from a drug overdose, usually from fentanyl or methamphetamine. The problems tend to intersect: nearly 200 homeless people died in the county in 2021, and 82 percent of those deaths involved drugs.
More than 16,000 Oregonians accessed services through the new grant program set up under Oregon’s landmark drug-decriminalization law in its first year, but less than 1% of those helped with Measure 110 dollars were reported to have entered treatment, new state data shows.ost of those who accessed the grant-funded services last year, nearly 60%, engaged with harm reduction programs such as syringe exchanges and naloxone distribution.