Oregon Rolls Back Drug Decriminalization Amid Rising Overdose Deaths

Aldgra Fredly
By Aldgra Fredly
March 2, 2024US News
Oregon Rolls Back Drug Decriminalization Amid Rising Overdose Deaths
The Oregon State Capitol building, Salem, Ore., circa 1960. (Harvey Meston/Archive Photos/Getty Images)

Oregon lawmakers on Friday passed a bill to recriminalize the possession of drugs, reversing the state’s first-in-the-nation drug decriminalization law that has been in place for three years amid the rising overdose crisis.

The bill, dubbed HB 4002, was passed by the state Senate in a 21–8 vote, with support from both Democrats and Republicans. It is now awaiting approval by Gov. Tina Kotek, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported.

The bill would classify any possession of small amounts of drugs—including fentanyl, heroin, and methamphetamine—as a misdemeanor and require drug treatment to avoid jail time.

Under the bill, law enforcement would have the authority to seize drugs and crack down on their use in public spaces.

The bill also aims to make it easier to prosecute people who sell drugs. It increases access to addiction medication, and to obtain housing without facing discrimination for using such medication.

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Kate Lieber, one of the bill’s authors, said that passage of the bill marks “the start of real and transformative change for our justice system.”

“With this bill, we are doubling down on our commitment to make sure Oregonians have access to the treatment and care that they need,” Ms. Lieber stated.

Measure 110, the “Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act,” was approved in November 2020 with 58 percent voter support. When it became law, the measure decriminalized user amounts of hard drugs—including fentanyl, methamphetamine, and heroin—in favor of addiction treatment options to be funded by the state’s cannabis tax.

But the rollout of the program has been an abject failure. An Oregon Health Authority (OHA) audit found that just 1 percent of people who were cited for possessing controlled substances sought treatment using a new hotline created as part of the measure.

Ms. Kotek has previously signaled her support to recriminalize drug possession.

“One piece will be criminalization, but if we just look at criminalization in isolation, I think it’s missing the point. So my question is going to be … what else are you going to do different to make sure we have better outcomes?” she told reporters on Feb. 1.

A recent report by OHA states that the number of people who died from an unintentional fentanyl overdose in Oregon more than tripled from 2020 to 2022, with a total of 839 fentanyl-related overdose deaths reported in 2022.

“Unfortunately, this trend is expected to continue, as Oregon has continued to see an increase in accidental overdose deaths due to fentanyl,” the report states.

Since 2020, Oregon has experienced a 210 percent increase in fentanyl-related fatalities, according to the OHA’s Public Health Division.

Overdoses in the state increased between November 2021 and November 2022 by nearly 4.58 percent, surpassing the national average by sevenfold, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Scottie Barnes and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

From The Epoch Times

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