Drug overdoses spike 700% after state decriminalizes drugs

(Pixabay image)
(Pixabay image)

When Oregon voters approved a ballot measure in 2020 to decriminalize hard drugs, they were promised the lives of everyone would be improved and funds would be diverted to addiction recovery centers for which $300 million was allotted.

But after more than one year, the rate of overdoses has spiked, and few offenders have used the treatment centers, DailyMail.com reported.

At a legislative hearing Thursday, Steve Allen, Oregon’s behavioral health director, acknowledged a “dramatic” increase in overdoses and overdose deaths statewide. One Republican state lawmaker said that her Southern Oregon community of Grants Pass has suffered a 700% increase in overdoses and a 120% increase in deaths.

The state law, which went into effect in February 2021, was the first of its kind in the nation. It made possession of Class E controlled substances – such as heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine – a “violation” rather than a felony or misdemeanor, carrying a maximum fine of $100. The fine can be waived if the offender calls a hotline for a health assessment.

But only 91 of the 1,885 people who received tickets for personal possession in the first year called the hotline.

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On Thursday, state officials said the $300 million treatment scheme had “potential” but only $40 million in funds had been disbursed.

Allen said his staff was “under-resourced to be able to support this effort” and they “underestimated the work that was involved in supporting something that looked like this, and partly we didn’t fully understand it until we were in the middle of it.”

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