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Southern Oregon needs access to drug treatment

Oregon has a destructive revolving door for people with drug addictions: detox (sometimes while in jail), back out and using, arrested and in trouble again — the cycle continues, with no support, and very little drug treatment and support services available to help people find a way out. This is a big problem across Oregon, and in the Rogue Valley, it’s out of control.

For me, this isn’t just a statistic I read in a newspaper. It’s my story.

My struggles with drug addiction started early. I was 15 years old. After many run-ins with the law, I started collecting criminal charges and I saw no end in sight. After years of going in and out of jail because of my addiction, I was finally able to get into treatment.

It’s not uncommon for the Jackson County Jail to release inmates early for lack of capacity. The county jail released 7,000 inmates in 2017 for this very reason. The same thing happened again in 2018, with 5,330 inmates released early, even after the jail added more beds to the basement. That same year our county jail had the second-highest number of forced releases out of all counties in Oregon. Some of these people were arrested on non-violent drug charges. Instead of being offered treatment, they cycle in and out of our jail, and addiction treatment remains practically nonexistent.

The cost is counted in lives, with people dying every day, sometimes from overdose while waiting to get into treatment. Here there are thousands of people who are desperate for treatment, but have nowhere to turn. There are not nearly enough residential treatment services in our region, and those that do exist are always full and have a long waiting list. And if you don’t have the funds to pay or the “right” insurance plan, you wouldn’t be able to get in even if the waiting list wasn’t weeks or months long.

That’s why I’m a passionate supporter of Measure 110, a ballot measure that will give our communities resources we desperately need and in doing so, save lives. Measure 110 will remove criminal penalties for small amounts of personal possession of drugs and connect people with drug treatment and recovery services instead. Measure 110 will expand access to low-cost, low-barrier treatment and recovery services in our region, so that people struggling with addiction can get help and build a recovery support network in the community where they already live and work.

I know from my own experience that treatment, not jail, is what saves lives. And I also know that the criminal charges stemming from a nonviolent drug offense continue to affect your life long after you’ve found recovery. I have nearly a decade in recovery, and I have struggled to find housing and employment and missed out on countless opportunities because of my criminal history.

Arresting me because of my struggle with addiction never helped me get better. It always made things worse. Imagine now that instead of being treated as criminals, those suffering from addiction are offered treatment and recovery services. What a difference that would make. Measure 110 makes this possible.

One in 11 Oregonians struggles with addiction, and many who want and need treatment can’t get it — particularly in more rural parts of the state like ours. This is a public health crisis that demands a public health solution. People struggling with addiction need treatment, not punishment.

Today, I own my own business, I spend countless hours giving back to my community and am a contributing member of society. My life is better than I ever could have imagined when I was living the daily hell of active addiction.

There is a way out, and we do recover if given the tools and support to do so. I want others in my community to have the same chance for a better life as I did. That’s why this November, I’ll be voting yes on Measure 110 and I hope you will, too. This solution is way overdue, it’s the right thing to do, and it will literally save lives.

Sarah Kolb of Medford is active in the local recovery community. She owns Signs of Hope, a local business dedicated to helping Rogue Valley residents navigate social services and the criminal justice system. She has over nine years of sobriety.