Oregon’s drug decriminalization measure fails to fund treatment
Oregon voters who approved Measure 110 were sold on the idea that providing addiction treatment for people caught with drugs like meth or heroin was a better option than sending them to jail.
Called the Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act, the 2020 measure has poured millions of dollars into services to help those struggling with addiction. But it hasn’t funded addiction treatment itself in Jackson County.
Instead, money is going toward things like referring people to treatment, overdose antidote kits and housing.
Measure 110 diverts millions of dollars in Oregon marijuana tax revenue from schools, police and other services into support for people with addiction.
But because marijuana is federally illegal, Oregon fears funding addiction treatment directly would jeopardize federal money that helps pay for treatment through the Oregon Health Plan. Subsidized by the state and federal governments, the Oregon Health Plan covers physical, dental and mental health care — including addiction treatment — for low-income residents.
“There has been a lot of confusion about what Measure 110 would do and what the funding would go towards. Unfortunately, it does not fund treatment,” said Sommer Wolcott, executive director of the addiction treatment organization OnTrack Rogue Valley.
A massive amount of money is on the line. After initially providing $33 million in grants to organizations around the state last year, Oregon is poised to release $270 million more in grants. Dozens of Rogue Valley organizations have submitted requests for funding while trying to figure out what Measure 110 can cover — and what it can’t.
The situation is even more confusing because, at least on paper, Measure 110 can cover addiction treatment. In the grant application, “low-barrier substance use disorder treatment” is listed as one of the services that can receive funding.
Low-barrier has varying definitions, but it generally means easy-to-access services that impose few conditions. Residential treatment that requires people to abstain from drug use, for example, typically isn’t considered low-barrier treatment.
The lack of Measure 110 funding for addiction treatment wouldn’t be a problem if enough money already was going toward treatment. But treatment has been chronically underfunded, providers across the state said.
Wolcott said 120 people are on OnTrack’s residential treatment waiting list. Half of those people are living in unsafe conditions, facing issues like homelessness, domestic violence or criminal activity at the home where they’re staying.
“The wait list is enormous,” Wolcott said.
Oregon consistently ranks among the worst states when it comes to access to addiction treatment, while also suffering some of the worst rates of drug and alcohol use.
“The challenge is we’re underfunding treatment,” said State Rep. Pam Marsh, who represents southern Jackson County. “Treatment isn’t funded well enough by OHP to start with. In short, Measure 110 isn’t going to solve our treatment dollar issues. It’s just not.”
Marsh said it will be up to the Oregon Legislature to find other sources of funding for addiction treatment when it convenes in February.
Although Measure 110 isn’t directly funding treatment, Marsh said it is providing an unprecedented pool of money to fund innovative programs to keep people healthier while they use drugs, prevent overdose deaths and show them there’s a way out when they’re ready to stop using.
Long a forerunner in the move to legalize marijuana, Oregon was the first state in the nation to essentially decriminalize heroin, meth, cocaine and other street drugs.
Kids and adults caught with user amounts now receive a $100 ticket. They can get the fine waived by calling a state hotline and answering some screening questions.
In the first nine months of the program, 1,280 people got tickets, but only 51 called the hotline — and only eight asked for treatment information. Most declined information about services and said they only called to get the $100 fine waived, The Oregonian reported in October 2021.
Since Measure 110 passed, Wolcott said OnTrack hasn’t seen a dramatic change in the number of people seeking addiction treatment. Most people are referred by friends, family, child welfare agencies and other professionals and organizations.
Wolcott said after first being rejected for funding when $33 million in initial money was passed out, OnTrack eventually did get money through Measure 110 to support the salaries of bilingual workers for intake, reception, peer support and alcohol and drug counselor positions.
Because bilingual workers are in such demand, OnTrack has to pay a premium to attract and keep those employees. Without outside help to cover their salaries, OnTrack would struggle to pay living wages to its non-bilingual workers, Wolcott said.
Measure 110 does prioritize services for traditionally underserved groups. The alcohol and drug treatment field has long had a shortage of bilingual, cross-cultural workers.
Now with a national labor shortage, addiction treatment providers are struggling to attract and keep all types of workers. Wolcott said providers received payment increases and emergency funding because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but that funding is short-term. Providers need sustainable, long-term funding so they can expand detox, residential treatment and other high-intensity services. She noted residential centers have to be staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The labor shortage and lack of consistent funding mean there isn’t enough treatment to meet the need, Wolcott said.
“Those two things coming together are creating a more pronounced crisis for people trying to get into services,” she said.
This article is part two of a three-day series. To read part one, see www.mailtribune.com/top-stories/2022/01/07/oregon-offers-different-paths-to-addiction-recovery/.
To read part three, see www.mailtribune.com/top-stories/2022/01/08/drug-use-comes-with-few-penalties-in-oregon/.
Friday: Oregon’s drug decriminalization measure fails to fund treatment
Saturday: Oregon offers different paths to addiction recovery
Sunday: Drug use comes with few penalties in Oregon