Overdose deaths in Oregon spiked last year after the state became the first to decriminalize possession of personal amounts of even the most potent street drugs.
Oregon’s experience is a warning to other Democratic localities that are adopting a “harm reduction” approach to drug addiction.
When Ballot Measure 110 passed in Oregon last November, progressive lawmakers and civil rights groups hailed the law as a nationwide model for managing rather than criminalizing drug addiction, aka harm reduction.
But after the measure was enacted Feb. 1 — reducing the potential penalty for possession of small quantities of heroin, methamphetamine and other drugs to a $100 citation — overdose deaths in Oregon surged, resulting in a 61% annual increase in 2021.
- By comparison, annual overdose deaths across the U.S. increased 17% last year, driven by a mounting crisis of fentanyl abuse.
- Even as Oregon’s drug arrests and convictions plummeted, other crimes continued to rise; Portland set an all-time record with 90 murders in 2021.
- Meanwhile, the state’s efforts to move drug addicts into treatment and expand funding for such programs have failed.
A REALITY CHECK?
The disappointing, not to say disastrous, results of Measure 110 have occasioned something of a reckoning in Oregon politics.
- Secretary of State Shemia a Democrat, said in June: “When the voters of Oregon passed Measure 110, we did so because it was a change of policy in Oregon to improve the lives of people, to improve our communities. And in the years since, we haven’t seen that play out. … Instead, in many communities in Oregon, we’ve seen the problem with drug addiction get worse.”
- District Attorney Kevin Barton of Washington County, Oregon, commented around the same time: “What we’re absolutely seeing is that as drug possession has been decriminalized, property crimes have increased and so has violent crime.”
- Two of the state’s three leading gubernatorial candidates — unaffiliated Betsy Johnson and Republican dark horse Christine Drazan — have campaigned on repealing the law.
- “Ballot Measure 110 has created an incredible mess. People are literally dying while state government fails to show up with the services this ballot measure promised,” Johnson told OPB earlier this month. “I opposed BM 110 and will work to repeal this failed experiment.”
Whatever lessons have been learned in Oregon, Democrat-led harm reduction initiatives have moved forward elsewhere in the U.S.