by Chris Hecht
COVID-19 is on the rise in Oregon. People need access to health care now more than ever, and for people with addictions, COVID-19 is a pandemic experienced on top of a health crisis. Oregonians are responding to overlapping public health emergencies — the addiction crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic and health disparities stemming from structural racism.
Access to medical care, drug treatment, addiction medicine, overdose prevention and recovery services has been severely impacted by the pandemic. Providers are unable to maintain prior levels of care and struggle to maintain even a minimum stock of overdose prevention supplies throughout the community. Meanwhile, Oregon continues to criminalize drug use, which drives drug users underground, where they are more likely to use drugs alone and overdose.
That’s why White Bird Clinic is a strong supporter of the Drug Addiction Treatment & Recovery Act, a statewide ballot measure that would change Oregon’s current system of arresting, jailing, prosecuting and paroling simple drug possession cases.
Instead of punishments and arrests, people with addiction would get better access to treatment and recovery services. The act would reclassify and reduce simple misdemeanor drug possession offenses, shifting the paradigm from public safety to public health. The measure does not legalize drugs.
The measure would make more treatment and recovery services available to those who need it and want it, in the Eugene-Springfield area and across the state. It also has the potential to reduce the social stigma around addiction; if addiction is a health issue, not a crime, there will be less shame and shaming, and people can more easily seek help. Those who want and need treatment would be able to get it — not just those who have money and the right insurance plan.
The act is paid for with revenue from Oregon’s existing state marijuana tax and from law enforcement savings from reduced arrests. Marijuana tax revenue above $45 million would expand drug treatment, recovery and stable housing services.
Using marijuana tax revenue to more fully fund a robust human services network that provides health care-based approaches to addiction will result in better outcomes and cost savings for the community. We’ve already seen just how effective a health-based approach to addiction is; our CAHOOTS Program (Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets) provides mobile crisis intervention 24/7 in the Eugene-Springfield metro area. CAHOOTS offers a broad range of services, including support for people with addictions through its linkage with White Bird’s Chrysalis Behavioral Health Outpatient Service, which offers services for substance abuse and mental health care through individual and group counseling, drug education, DUII and acupuncture treatment.
The Drug Addiction Treatment & Recovery Act builds upon successful models like this one. When people are offered treatment over jail, they are given a real opportunity to recover and get their lives back on track.
We need this measure now more than ever. More individuals, including those who have never previously had addictions, are turning to substances to help cope with the pandemic and its fallout. Oregon has the fourth-highest addiction rate in the country, according to recent data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association. Oregon ranked 49 out of 50 states in treatment options available for people struggling with addiction.
Across the nation we’re seeing an increase in depression, anxiety and suicide calls. The economic, mental and emotional fallout of the pandemic fuels the stress and anxiety that so many of us are feeling right now. At a time when less addiction and recovery services are available, more Oregonians need them. The initiative can help make these critically needed services more accessible to more people.
We strongly recommend that voters support the passage of this crucial initiative. See YesOnIP44.org to learn more.
Chris Hecht is the executive coordinator of White Bird Clinic. White Bird Clinic operates multiple locations in Eugene, providing compassionate, humanistic health care and supportive services to individuals in our community, so everyone receives the care they need.