Marshall: Addiction cries for treatment, not punishment

As a 16-year resident of Yamhill County, I was disappointed to see my hometown newspaper editorialize against Measure 110.

Oregon’s current approach to drug addiction is failing our communities. And I should know., as I have spent 25 years working in the criminal and juvenile systems in Oregon as a prosecutor, child welfare lawyer, U.S. Attorney and criminal defense attorney.

I have witnessed first hand the devastating failures of criminalizing, shaming and stigmatizing people who suffer from substance use disorder. I have seen personally that our state’s current approach does not work, that criminalizing addiction only makes the problem worse.

As a person in recovery and the mom of a teen in recovery, it’s become personal for me as well. I know supportive treatment and recovery services are what people with addictions need. I’ve lived it and I’ve watched my child live it.

Neither of us would be where we are today if we hadn’t had access to quality treatment, and sadly, we had to leave the state to get it. Life-saving health care shouldn’t be reserved for the privileged few, but the fact is, most Oregonians don’t have access to treatment when and where they need it.

Currently, Oregon a destructive revolving door for people with drug addiction: detox in jail, back out and using, arrested again, returned to jail. The cycle continues, with very little drug treatment and support services available to help people find a way out.

When someone is struggling with an addiction, arrested doesn’t provide them with the support and services they need. It only makes the problem worse. It not only denies them medical care, but also saddles them with a criminal record that can prevent them from getting a job, a place to rent, even a credit card.

Measure 110 would expand access to low-cost, low-barrier treatment services throughout the state, including Yamhill County, and decriminalize possession of user amounts. It would change Oregon to a health-based approach.

The measure would not legalize drugs. Offenses posing harm to others, including delivery, manufacture and driving under the influence, would remain crimes.

Because it would shift us from punishing addiction to employing a health-based, treatment-first approach, Measure 110 has received more than 100 endorsements from organizations across the state, including the American College of Physicians, Oregon Nurses Association, Oregon School Psychologists’ Association, Law Enforcement Action Partnership, Crime Victims’ Rights Alliance and Academy of Family Physicians.

Measure 110 offers us the chance to fix a broken system ruining lives, wasting money and diverting resources better applied to violent crime.

It costs $23,000 to $35,000 a year to punish someone for misdemeanor drug possession, compared to $9,000 to $10,000 to provide treatment. And it’s the taxpayer who foots the bill.

All of this without even considering the collateral but very real costs, like the thousands of kids entering foster care or the juvenile system while their addicted parents spiral in and out of custody. And expanding treatment options would be funded through existing marijuana tax revenue.

We know from decades of data that arresting a person with substance use issues is more likely to result in an escalation of both the frequency and severity of future criminal conduct, while a health-based response is more likely to lead to a reduction. Measure 110 is not only the most reasonable approach, but also the best way to keep our community safe.

We can’t arrest our way out of Oregon’s addiction crisis. If that worked, we wouldn’t be in such a dire situation today.

Oregon has one of the lowest rates of drug treatment access in the U.S. As a result, one in 10 Oregonians is addicted and one or two succumb to overdoses every day.

Arresting people for an illness is making things worse. It’s time to stop ruining lives and begin saving them. Please join me in voting yes on Measure 110.

S. Amanda Marshall is a former U.S. Attorney for Oregon. She lives with her family in McMinnville.


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