PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — A series of recent national news stories and opinion pieces are largely blaming the decriminalization of small amounts of hard drugs in Oregon for downtown Portland’s problems. The New York Times, which once championed the city’s “Portlandia” image, has been especially critical. The pieces also highlight the ongoing debate over whether to reverse the drug policy reforms.
State voters passed Measure 110 in 2020. It decriminalized possession of small amounts of drugs such as cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and fentanyl. The measure also established a drug-treatment program funded by tax revenue from legal marijuana sales. Since then, downtown has seen well-documented increase in open-air drug dealing, overdoses, and violence.
According to the Oregon Health Department, in 2019 there were 280 unintentional opioid overdose deaths in Oregon. In 2021 there were 745. The Portland Police Bureau reported that in 2019 there were 413 shooting incidents in Portland. In 2022 there were 1,309.
Despite the growing problems, few drug users have sought treatment. An April 1 article in The Economist magazine reported that of the 4,000 drug use citations issued in Oregon during the first two years of Measure 110, only 40 people called the hotline and were interested in treatment.
“Meanwhile, the number of people living on the street in Multnomah County, which includes Portland, rose by 29 percent from January 2022 to January 2023,” the magazine wrote in an April 1 article titled, “Oregon’s drug decriminalisation has had a troubled start.”
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