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Overdose rates upin Oregon after the state decriminalized the possession of hard drugs

Photo by ALEX EDELMAN/AFP via Getty Images

Correction: The original version of this story claimed that overdoses were up statewide by 700%, which is incorrect. Although overdose rates in the state have risen, the 700% was confined to one local community referenced in the story. We regret the error.

Overdose rates in the state of Oregon rose after voters in the state approved a ballot measure to decriminalize all hard drugs.

Voters in the state of Oregon voted to decriminalize all hard drugs in the pursuit of encouraging those struggling with drug addiction to seek medical help. The measure, referred to as Ballot Measure 110, was the first of its kind in the U.S. and went into effect in February of 2021 after being approved by the public the year before.

Ballot Measure 110 made it so that it was no longer a felony or misdemeanor of any kind to possess drugs in the state of Oregon. At most, people carrying hard drugs are subject to a maximum fine of $100 which can be waived if the person receiving the citation calls a public hotline and receives a free health assessment.

If a person is found to be carrying a “personal amount” of drugs like heroin, cocaine, or methamphetamine at most, they will receive a $100 fine.

Of the $300 million that was meant to be allocated to public health resources to fight addiction, only $40 million has been dispersed.

The Daily Mail reported that Ballot Measure 110 has largely had an inverse effect and has led not to more people seeking treatment but to more drug-related deaths and the proliferation of hard drug use throughout Oregonian communities.

Republican state official Lily Morgan said, “We have overdoses increasing at drastic rates.”

Morgan said, “In my community, [there has been] a 700% increase in overdoses and a 120% increase in deaths.”

Shemia Fagan, the Oregonian Secretary of State, said that Oregon residents approved Ballot Measure 110 to “improve the lives of people, to improve our communities.”

Fagan said, “When the voters of Oregon passed Measure 110, we did so because it was a change of policy in Oregon to improve the lives of people, to improve our communities, and in the years since, we haven’t seen that play out.”

She concluded, “Instead, in many communities in Oregon, we’ve seen the problem with drug addiction get worse.”

Steve Allen, Oregon’s behavioral health director, acknowledged that there has been a “dramatic” increase in overdoses and overdose deaths, but he attributed much of these to an influx of methamphetamine laced with fentanyl.

Allen indicated a belief that if public health resources received enough funding and support, then overdose deaths would decrease as the state’s drug problem begins to improve.

He said, “Getting these resources out to the community is incredibly important — not just the harm reduction resources, but people who can support folks who are at risk for overdose.”

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