Oregon Must Start Treatment System Under New Drug Law

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Now that Oregon voters ended nearly all criminal penalties for drug possession, the state has two months to set up a new recovery-focused system, a task complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic, reports the Wall Street Journal. Measure 110, which goes into effect Feb. 1, allows a maximum fine of $100 for possession of drugs including heroin, cocaine and methamphetamines along with a mandatory health assessment. The first state law of its kind in the nation passed with support of 58 percent of voters this month. It mandates new recovery centers, paid for by marijuana taxes and savings from less incarceration.

Addiction experts say Oregon isn’t prepared to offer treatment to anyone caught in possession of an illegal drug, especially in the midst of a pandemic that makes in-person treatment harder as overdoses are rising. State-funded addiction recovery centers will operate by phone only initially, with the first physical locations operational by October. “They’ll tell you where to go but they will not offer treatment,” said Mike Marshall of Oregon Recovers, an advocacy group. “And they will not provide any financial assistance and they won’t put you to the front of the line, which is what a judge can do if you’re in his court.” Oregon drug overdose deaths rose 70 percent in April and May compared with the same months last year. More than 40 states have reported increases in opioid-related deaths during the pandemic, according to the American Medical Association. Proponents of Measure 110 said criminalizing addiction has been ineffective in promoting recovery.

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