Nobody Can Beat Oregon for Drug Use and Abuse

We rank at the top for drug use. The governor's delay on implementing a solution infuriates advocates.

(Cindy Shebley / Flickr)

Last year, Gov. Kate Brown declared a public health emergency for alcohol and substance abuse. That came in response to Oregon's ignoble distinction of notably high drug use and abuse.

Brown tasked a group of experts to come up with a plan by the end of this year for how the state should combat addiction.

But last week, Brown made clear to the Alcohol and Drug Policy Commission she won't act on that plan for perhaps another 18 months, meaning she won't support legislative fixes and spending increases as part of the short session of the Legislature in February.

The reason: She also wants recommendations for how to address homelessness and thus approach the two issues comprehensively.

That didn't go over well with some advocates.

It "means more people while under her watch are going to die," said Mike Marshall, executive director of addiction nonprofit Oregon Recovers, at the Sept. 24 commission meeting.

Marshall also said the governor's decision to delay comes after "two years of work to move this state forward to address an unprecedented addiction crisis that has us as one of the worst states in the nation."

A Sept. 17 report from Mental Health America underlines Oregon's shortcomings. The annual survey draws on 15 indicators, including substance abuse, to rank states and the District of Columbia on prevalence of mental illness and access to care. Oregon ranks 50 out of 51—we have lots of problems and few solutions. Only Nevada ranks lower.

The governor's office pointed to the fact that Brown has already taken action securing new funding in the last legislative session to address the crisis and underlying causes, including $2.5 million to target pregnant women's addiction services, a $50 million behavioral health investment, and $50 million for permanent supportive housing.

"Drug and alcohol misuse, overdose, and addiction remain persistent, costly and devastating problems for Oregonians, with far-reaching impact on our children and families," says Brown spokesman Charles Boyle. "Gov. Brown has taken significant steps to address this crisis."

Oregon's rank among the states with the highest use of drugs

#1 for marijuana
#1 for pain reliever misuse
#2 for methamphetamine
#4 for cocaine
#4 for alcohol use disorder
#21 for heroin

Source: National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 2016-17

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