By State Representative Rob Nosse
The election is over and the results are in. There is a good chance I will be the chair of a combined Behavioral Health and Health Care Committee in January of 2023. The responsibility, given what I know about the state of health care in our state, country and its workforce given my long-time involvement with the Oregon Nurses Association, is daunting. The pandemic has really done a number on hospitals and their workforce, as well as nursing homes and other healthcare facilities.
I am also keenly aware of the need to continue to focus on mental health and behavioral health. Just Google “state rankings on mental health and addiction” and Oregon routinely comes up as 49, 48 or even 50. There is much to do.
One thing that will not be on my list is a repeal of Ballot Measure 110. In case you don’t remember, Ballot Measure 110 was approved by voters in the November 2020 election and removed criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of drugs in favor of a health-based approach.
Rather than labeling drug users as criminals, Measure 110 treats substance abuse as a public health issue. It calls for expanded access to lifesaving services from overdose prevention and early intervention services to low-barrier treatment, supportive housing, peer and mentor support and more. Thanks to its passage, Oregon is poised to invest more than five times what we previously spent on addiction and recovery services. People in our communities will be able to access services more quickly, closer to home and by someone who shares their culture and language.
Have there been some big bumps in implementing Measure 110? Certainly. Does the Measure need better support from state agencies? Without a doubt. Did we underestimate the amount of time it would take to get Measure 110 networks set up, contracts signed and services stood up across the state? Yes, we did.
With that said, I believe the policy is strong and already saving lives. Rather than focusing solely on where implementation could have been handled better, we must acknowledge that the very real, most damaging way that Oregon has been an outlier is that we have been at the bottom of the nation in providing services proven to help people suffering from addiction, while also having one of the highest addiction rates in the country. That is what Measure 110 is attempting to change.
During the election, many campaigns tried to use the addiction and overdose crises for their own partisan advantage, despite the facts. There has been a large-scale misinformation campaign against Measure 110, blaming it for societal problems that are increasing across the country–not just in Oregon where small amounts of drug possession have been decriminalized. It is still illegal to deal and sell drugs.
I don’t disagree that Oregon’s overdose crisis is worsening, but tying that increase to Measure 110 is just plain wrong. The the data does not support this. While overdose rates are rising across the country, Oregon has the 12th lowest drug overdose rate, lower than Washington, California, Nevada, Colorado and most other western states. The fact of the matter is this–the meth and fentanyl crisis we are experiencing would be here even if we had not passed Ballot Measure 110. The Measure did not cause this problem and the whole country is dealing with these problems, not just Oregon.
I am angry about what is going on in our streets, but that problem only gets fixed by more residential treatment and supportive housing options getting opened up. Putting those folks in jail or forcing them to come into treatment when we have not dealt with what made them houseless and why they turned to drugs and alcohol in the first place will not fix very much.
Criminalizing addiction again and relying on law enforcement interaction is not going to get most people to change their addiction patterns and challenges. Treatment, housing, employment, purpose and human connection will. For me, it boils down to this–we’ve already tried incarcerating ourselves out of this crisis for more than 50 years and that only made the problem worse.
Luckily, two years after voting Measure 110 into law by a 17-point margin, independent polling shows a majority of Oregon voters still support the law. Voters want Measure 110 to remain in place. It is a transformational law that we should celebrate. But we also need to set expectations and have a realistic understanding that transformational, system-wide change takes time.
This is a multi-year process. I am very committed to addressing the criticism that has rightly come up during this past year in the 2023 session. As I like to say, stay tuned. We need to give it a chance.