Fentanyl is often mixed with other street drugs, leading to many overdoses. (Getty Images)
Oregon lawmakers want to look at the state’s drug addiction crisis – and seek solutions – from all angles before the next legislative session starts in February.
That work starts in earnest at 1 p.m. Wednesday, when the new Joint Interim Committee on Addiction and Community Safety Response meets for the first time. Legislative leaders announced the eight-member committee in September amid concerns about drug addiction, deadly overdoses and what role Oregon’s drug decriminalization law plays after voters in 2020 passed Measure 110, which also put marijuana revenue toward addiction programs throughout the state.
The committee will look at the addiction crisis from a wider perspective than Measure 110 alone, said Sen. Kate Lieber, D-Beaverton, who is co-chairing the committee with Rep. Jason Kropf, D-Bend.
“This committee is really going to serve as a legislative hub to address the urgent public health and public safety response – because you have to have both – to the drug crisis,” Lieber told the Capital Chronicle. “Really, the goal of this committee is to make sure that our streets are safer and that we’re saving lives.”
In four monthly meetings from Wednesday through January, lawmakers will hear from addiction treatment providers, law enforcement and others about the factors driving the crisis and potential solutions.
Lieber, a former Multnomah county prosecutor and the Senate majority leader, said the first meeting will focus on behavioral health and the public health response to the crisis. The committee wants to aid prevention and increase treatment options so people can get off drugs, she said.
“We wanted to hear from boots-on-the-ground people about what are the things that we need to address,” Lieber said, adding that lawmakers will need to determine where the system has gaps and how to pay for fixing them.
The first meeting’s agenda includes presentations on addiction prevention and the treatment system from the Oregon Alcohol and Drug Policy Commission, the Oregon Health Authority and providers throughout the state, from Portland to rural Coos County.
The committee’s second meeting in November will focus on law enforcement and public safety, Kropf said. From there, additional meetings will look at potential immediate solutions and long-term goals.
“All things are on the table,” said Kropf, a former Deschutes County prosecutor. “We want to know what’s out there working, what’s not working, and why isn’t it working. We want to know if people are proposing solutions. Are they going to be effective?”
Fentanyl is a game-changer, as the cheap, highly-addictive opioid has flooded the streets. In 2022, 934 Oregonians died from opioid overdoses, up from 280 in 2019, according to Oregon Health Authority data.
“When something is 50 to 100 times more addictive than black tar heroin, when it is so much cheaper, when it’s $1 a pill – it is a completely different animal,” Lieber said.
As open drug use in cities from Portland to Grants Pass has increased, lawmakers said Oregonians have every right to demand safer neighborhoods. The crisis needs a rapid response with compassion for people with drug addictions and other Oregonians, Lieber said.
“We have to have that compassion for them, as well as the compassion for people who are walking down the street with their kids,” Lieber said. “They do not need to see open air drug use and try to explain to their children why it is that they can’t walk down the street without seeing somebody slumped over.”
Measure 110, which decriminalized possession of small amounts of hard drugs, also pumped more than $214 million to programs across the state to provide addiction-related services, such as housing, counseling and harm reduction, which can include giving clean needles to drug users.
Sen. Tim Knopp of Bend, the Senate Republican leader, has said his caucus will ask the committee to refer a bill that sends Measure 110 back to voters to accept or reject.
Separately, a coalition that includes Nike co-founder Phil Knight has filed two ballot measures with the Secretary of State’s Office to prohibit public drug use, recriminalize possession and mandate treatment for people on drugs or alcohol.
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