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It’s Time For Oregon To Admit Decriminalizing Drugs Has Gone Horribly Wrong

Individuals caught with drugs are now fined and referred to drug addiction services rather than charged, but most users never seek help.

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The old Prohibition joke is that the United States outlawed alcohol right when people needed a drink the most. It’s an ironic joke considering the last thing anybody needs when they’re going through a crisis of “Depression” is an addictive substance that alters your mental state.

Fast forward to 2020, when the state of Oregon repealed another prohibition of illicit drugs nearly 100 years later. Nine months into the pandemic, with its Measure 110, Oregon became the first state in the nation to decriminalize the possession of drugs such as methamphetamines, heroin, LSD, Oxycodone, MDMA, Methadone, and Psilocobyn. Individuals caught with such drugs are now given a small fine and referred to drug addiction services rather than charged.

The theory behind the effort to decriminalize drugs is that it is the legal consequences of using drugs, not the drugs themselves, that ruin people’s lives. On the one-year anniversary of Measure 110, proponents of the legislation celebrated the “thousands of Oregonians  this year that have or will avoid the devastating life-long consequences of a drug arrest, that can include the loss of employment, educational opportunities, housing, public benefits, child custody and immigration status.” Advocates of the measure tend not to mention the devastating life-long consequences of using drugs, resting their argument instead on the notion that the costs associated with drug law enforcement — or the “war on drugs” — could be earmarked for use in harm reduction and addiction recovery services.

Only there’s a glaring problem: It’s not working. Oregon now has the dubious distinction of being the state with the nation’s highest rates of meth and opioid misuse. Two years into the program, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported that the means meant to steer people into treatment have failed, with most recipients either ducking the fine or not showing up to court. Even as drug-related arrests in Oregon plummeted, more than 99 percent of users eligible for state-funded treatment chose not to seek it. It’s almost as if people addicted to drugs make poor choices.

The other problem with Measure 110 is that the Oregon government has been incompetent in distributing funds to treatment services. Last month, leftist Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler slammed Measure 110 for the slow rollout of treatment funds, saying, “If it’s not working, then let’s just admit it, and let’s move on to something that does.” This type of realization is something Wheeler has a lot of experience with, having been at the forefront of a historic defunding of policing in his city, and then desperately seeking millions in police investment after a rampant crime increase.

Sadly, decriminalizing drugs has had the opposite effect from what it intended, with some experts saying this permissive approach has reduced pressures for users to seek help. Speaking to the Oregon Senate Committee on the Judiciary and Ballot Measure 110 Implementation, Keith Humphreys, a psychology professor at Stanford University, stated “On the one hand we have highly rewarding drugs which are widely available, and on the other little or no pressure to stop using them. Under those conditions we should expect to see exactly what Oregon is experiencing: extensive drug use, extensive addiction, and not much treatment seeking.”

Worst in the Nation

Perhaps not coincidentally, Oregon also has the second-highest rates of mental illness and third-highest rates of rate of serious mental illness. As recreational drug users celebrate Oregon as a drug tourist destination closer than Amsterdam, this growing industry has also fueled the drive for the Greater Idaho movement, where disgruntled Idahoans living on the border of Oregon see rising drug-related criminal activity at their doorstep and want to move the Idaho state line. The Mexican drug cartels have also capitalized on the growing demand for drugs in Oregon, increasing their network in under-policed tourist towns along the Oregon coast. The simple fact is that Measure 110 has not made Oregon a better place to live for anyone, but particularly worse for addicts. If only we could have seen this coming.

But of course we did. Alcohol has been legal in Oregon for 90 years. Even before the pandemic, alcohol was the third-leading cause of preventable death in Oregon, with rates far above the national average. However, during the pandemic, at a time when healthy coping activities such as churches, gyms, entertainment venues, and even playgrounds were shuttered, liquor stores mysteriously remained open as essential businesses.

Naturally, alcohol sales skyrocketed during the pandemic. Oregon owns all liquor sold, and the state was too busy benefiting from an 18.5 percent alcohol revenue increase to be concerned, raking in a record $813 million in 2021. Soon, according to the Oregon Health Authority, six Oregonians began dying from alcohol-related causes every single day, twice the rate of drug-related deaths. By that same token, marijuana, which had been legalized in 2015, resulted in Oregon having among the nation’s highest rates of youth marijuana use. Since children exposed to marijuana use are twice as likely to develop drug and alcohol addiction, Oregon has safeguarded its legacy of high rankings for generations to come.

Oregon Must Acknowledge the Problem

As difficult as it is to say, Mayor Wheeler is right: If something clearly doesn’t work, admit it, and do something else! Legalizing bad behavior isn’t the same as reducing crime, and Oregon has made a tragic problem worse in trying to sidestep it. Addiction is a complicated issue, as anyone who has a loved one with addiction knows. But for Oregon, the entire state itself has become an enabler in creating a system that prevents addicts from hitting rock bottom.

The first step to solving a problem is to acknowledge there’s a problem. Overcoming denial is a critical stage for Oregonians to begin helping our communities. The state’s response to the crisis of addiction has been to enable addicts to manage their dependence. This is idealistic, ignorant, and irresponsible. Any addiction treatment program will tell you that, left to itself, addiction is degenerative. The means stopping the cycle of addiction involves the individual making sure that the means of addiction are not readily accessible.

Decriminalizing drugs to increase funds for treatment is like handing out knives to get more band-aids. It’s time for Oregon to sober up.


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