“Costly, complicated, and set up to fail.” Addiction experts and service providers say petitions filed today against Measure 110 will increase costs and reduce addiction services


Contact: Devon Downeysmith

Everyone in Oregon agrees that leaders have not done enough to address the ongoing crisis of addiction and homelessness in our communities. However, the complicated, costly, and ineffective ballot measures announced today that are backed by the former head of Oregon Department of Corrections are not the solution. (Read/download the petitions here: Version A, Version B.)

While Measure 110 is now delivering critical new funding for addiction treatment, these petitions would:

  • Divert dollars away from treatment and back into the expensive criminal system when already less than half of those who enter jail needing mental health services are getting them today.
  • Increase jail crowding when Oregon is experiencing a severe shortage of public defenders, leading to delays in prosecution for all crimes and even meaning some people charged with crimes are simply released. 
  • Increase overdose risk. People are 27 times more likely to die from drug overdose after leaving jail or prison. 
  • Increase racial disparities. Portland police Black people at a per capita rate 4.3 times higher than white people, the fifth worst in the country
  • Reinstitute the ineffective and harmful practices of the past that resulted in arrests while addiction rates skyrocketed  
  • Leave us in the current situation where police aren’t enforcing the laws already on the books
  • Fail to reduce addiction, fail to reduce homelessness, fail to make our streets safer

Addiction Recovery Providers and Advocates Respond:

“My son died of a heroin overdose when personal possession was a crime. Criminalization and threat of arrest did not save him and it will not save the thousands of sons and daughters in need of treatment in Oregon today,” says Julia Pinsky of Jackson County, who started Max’s Mission in memory of her son. “The disorder, crime and human suffering on Oregon’s streets are unacceptable. We need to demand that politicians and bureaucrats stop dragging their feet, and finally deliver the housing, drug treatment, and mental health care that people need and voters have overwhelmingly supported. The fentanyl crisis has made the need for these services even more critical. I don’t want any more families to experience the devastation of losing their child.” 

Measure 110 is ramping up investment in long-needed services. Detox and recovery beds are being provided, new counseling staff are being hired, and people can access addiction and treatment services more quickly, closer to home and free of charge. As people seeking treatment literally line up every morning at Portland detox centers, and treatment provided by Measure 110 has increased 44%, the petition(s) filed today would return Oregon to the failed model of criminalizing addiction that has never worked and puts Measure 110 funding at risk. 

“Drug treatment only works if the person experiencing it is committed to getting sober. We need more – not fewer – detox facilities so that people have a place to sober up and make clear-headed decisions about treatment. We just opened a new detox center in Portland with Measure 110 dollars and are opening clinics in SW Portland and in Newberg. This proposal puts massive uncertainty into the system just as we finally have full funding and are able to open our doors,” says Katie Nicosia, NP, Addictions Medical Provider and co-owner of Recovery Works NW.

Shannon Jones is the CEO of the Oregon Change Clinic, which provides drug counseling, housing, and intensive outpatient services funded with Measure 110 dollars. Her organization serves more than 300 people each year, and has been able to dramatically increase services thanks to Measure 110 and has remodeled a formerly dilapidated hotel near downtown Portland that is providing housing and treatment.

“It is disappointing that the people behind these petitions didn’t talk to Measure 110 providers. We could have told them what is needed to make the measure more effective. We need more outreach, and the entire system needs increased funding and people need a roof over their head for recovery to be successful. Arresting and jailing people with addiction means they will end up right back on the street with increased overdose risk and a criminal record that will make the road to recovery that much harder,” says Jones. 

Measure 110 reduced the penalties for possession of controlled substances but it did not make them legal. Under state law, police can and should confiscate drugs and immediately connect people to local treatment and addiction services instead of writing a ticket and walking away (if they even issue a ticket in the first place.) Providers say that the public is fed up with the long waiting lists for detox and treatment services and there needs to be increased funding for sobering centers. In a time when the public defender system is also in a crisis, reinstituting criminal penalties would be unjust, ineffective, and would overwhelm the courts. 

Larry Turner is the co-founder and a community navigator at Fresh Out in Portland, and a leader in the Oregon Black, Brown and Indigenous Advocacy Coalition, a statewide organization that works to increase the power of people and communities most negatively impacted by the failed war on drugs and uphold and support organizations of color in those communities. 

“Drug use has been a problem in many neighborhoods for decades and overdose rates were skyrocketing before passage of Measure 110,” says Turner. “Before passing new laws that will take us back to the days when Black and brown people were disproportionately harmed by criminalization, we need to make Measure 110 more effective without overturning the law and going backwards. We need unified support from leaders committed to providing services to people who need them quickly; demanding accountability from local officials; and strongly supporting first responders and service providers. Let’s enforce the laws we have.”

The petitions filed today will require judges to become behavioral health specialists and would mean increased costs for prosecutors, public defenders, police and court personnel. It would set up expensive new bureaucracies and processes and unwieldy barriers to care.

“These haphazard proposals would be costly, complicated, and set up to fail by overburdening the criminal system, which has never successfully reduced addiction or drug use in our communities,” says Tera Hurst, Executive Director of Health Justice Recovery Alliance. “If the chief petitioners really want to reduce addiction in our communities they should join us in calling for more funding for effective and accessible voluntary treatment instead of wasting taxpayer dollars on a criminal system boondoggle.”