Oregon is in the midst of a drug addiction crisis; one to two people in Oregon die from a drug overdose every day. As career emergency physicians, we have been on the front lines of this epidemic. We have seen how addiction wreaks havoc on the sufferers’ physical health and mental and emotional well-being, the toll addiction takes on families and communities and the difficulties for people with addictions to find a way out.
The good news is that there are treatments that work. Depending on the type of addiction, therapy, peer support and medication can help many people recover from addiction and lead productive lives. The bad news is that data-driven treatment and recovery resources are not available to all who need and want them.
Despite a long-held consensus among health care professionals that addiction is a health issue, Oregon punishes people with drug addiction, sending them to jail instead of connecting them with effective, compassionate care. This practice is cruel and ineffective. Incarceration for addiction makes matters much worse for everyone and exacerbates the untreated health complications of those with addiction. Without access to drug treatment and recovery services, the cycle of drug use/jail time/and back on the street continues, with no support to help people find a way out.
It’s time for a better approach to addiction in Oregon. This November, Oregonians will be able to vote for a more effective, humane approach by voting yes on Measure 110.
Measure 110 will remove criminal penalties for personal possession of small amounts of drugs, by reclassifying such offenses as civil infractions instead of misdemeanors. Instead of potentially facing jail sentences of up to 364 days, fines and a lifetime criminal record, people caught with small amounts of drugs will instead be connected to the drug treatment and recovery services they need to get well.