PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Two years after the state of Oregon decriminalized hard drugs, some people are calling the decision a mistake.
Voters approved Measure 110 in 2020, which decriminalized small amounts of hard drugs and funded addiction and mental health programs. But the rollout of the funding for those programs was slow.
“We know there was a lot of disappointment about the early pace of our work and I share in that disappointment,” said Sabrina Garcia, a member of the Measure 110 Oversight and Accountability Council.
The Oregon Health Authority says by the end of this month, it will have spent or obligated $845 million of the more than $1 billion lawmakers earmarked through the end of the year. Funding applications have stacked up because state officials underestimated how long it would take to get the money out of the door.
A new report from the OHA says that “Oregon has a higher prevalence of behavioral health problems than most other states, but less access to care.” OHA talked about some of these challenges earlier this week.
“There was a lot of learning on the fly during the time the COVID-19 pandemic was depleting Oregon’s health care workforce, diverting critical resources,” said OHA Behavioral Health Director Steve Allen.
This response comes after criticism and frustration as people watch the addiction crisis unfold on Portland’s streets.
Many people have told KOIN 6 News that they commonly watch open drug use in Portland, and experts say new meth and a flood of fentanyl into the city are only making problems worse.
In May, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler called on the state to do something about the crisis. Last week, Portland Police Association President Aaron Schmautz brought up the measure in a conversation about public safety.
“We have, obviously, a significant houseless problem that leaves people very vulnerable. And finding ways to get people into shelters, get people off the street, get people into treatment. Measure 110 was just a complete mistake, and it has lead to significant amounts of increase in drug use, in drug dependency. And we see that bear itself out in overdoses. Even in our schools, overdoses. So, we need to lean into these problems and, again, work together even when we don’t align,” he said. “We need to really recognize who’s vulnerable, and get them help.”
Schmautz provided no data connecting Measure 110 to an increase in drug use or overdose; however, in May, officials with PPB told KOIN 6 News they had been notified of 87 overdose deaths in 2020, which jumped to 113 in 2021. As of May 2022, PPB had been notified of about 58, with 27 of those linked to fentanyl.
When it comes to the funds finally making their way to those in need, OHA says they’ll focus on case management, low-barrier substance use disorder treatment, harm reduction services, peer-supported services and housing outreach.