Oregon lawmakers began their 2024 legislative session on Monday, and a statewide coalition working to address the state’s alcohol and drug addiction crisis requested support for its recovery plan.
Jesse Cornett, policy director for Oregon Recovers, discussed the coalition’s emergency 12-step plan to end Oregon’s addiction crisis during a Senate Committee on Health Care meeting.
“While there’s going to be an intense focus on (Ballot Measure 110) this session, our 12-step plan is intended to raise awareness of substance use disorders (SUDs) and, more broadly, the interface with the public safety system,” Cornett said. “It encourages you to work toward lasting solutions.”
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Addiction costs Oregon $6.7 billion a year—17 percent of the state’s annual budget—which takes into account societal costs related to foster care, youth incarceration, homelessness, and truancy rates, Cornett said. Six Oregonians die in an alcohol-related death every day, while three die from using illicit substances. The state ranks 50th in the nation in access to treatment, he added.
“We offer limited treatment prevention programs, and there are long-time waits for treatment,” Cornett said. “For those that are lucky enough to make it through, we offer poor aftercare. There’s no single point of accountability or authority within the state governments in Oregon. There are no individuals who have lived experience in leadership roles making decisions.”
Oregon Recovers’ 12-step plan promotes broad solutions to the state’s addiction crisis, and aims to reduce fatal drug overdoses and alcohol-related deaths by 50 percent within a year. It aims to eliminate detox and residential treatment and recovery housing waitlists within six months.
“There’s an urgency here. We’re looking long-term, not to simply address the immediate need. But we have to address that immediate need as well. We’re calling on the state to set an ambitious goal today. We need concrete goals to end the addiction crisis by reducing use. We released this plan in August. This is step one. It calls on a coordinated response.”— Cornett
Gov. Tina Kotek declared a 90-day state of emergency to address the fentanyl addiction and overdose crisis in downtown Portland last week, Cornett noted. And law enforcement officers in Tigard seized enough heroin last weekend for every Oregonian to overdose 12-and-a-half times, he added.
“We need your help in ensuring there’s a statewide plan created immediately, and (to) begin executing it this year,” Cornett said. “Local jurisdictions are falling down and need the state’s help. We need resources tied to this plan.”
Cornett said lawmakers may want to consider raising taxes on alcohol sold in the state.
“As alcohol prices increase, they’re shown to reduce use, especially among younger drinkers,” he said. “Alcohol or beer taxes have not been increased in Oregon in my lifetime, and I was born in the 1970s. So it’s high time to start talking about some of those things.”
Oregon Recovers will also be advocating for House Bill 4120, which would establish the Oregon Jail-based Medications for Opioid Use Disorder Grant Program in the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission, Cornett said.
“We want to increase the utilization of medicine-assisted treatment. HB 4120 will help ensure that when folks are on medicine such as buprenorphine, they don’t get cut off when they become incarcerated. That’s currently what’s happening, and that’s adding to the problem. So we want to continue to expand access to that.”— Cornett
Sen. Cedric Hayden (R-Fall Creek) discussed a bill he is sponsoring this year—Senate Bill 1547—which would permit a treatment facility to admit a minor for inpatient SUD treatment for up to 14 days when their parent consents to treatment but the minor does not. It would require health plans to cover inpatient treatment for a minor’s cannabis use under certain conditions.
“Here in the state of Oregon, (marijuana) is not viewed as an addictive substance,” Hayden said. “And there isn’t any treatment through our insurance to deal with that. The bill I have is geared towards youth. I believe there’s a difference between the marijuana of the 1960s and 1970s, and the marijuana that’s available on the streets today.”
Hayden noted that the tobacco industry promoted research to convince the public that cigarettes aren’t addictive in the 1960s and the end of the 1990s.
“I think we’re seeing the same thing with marijuana,” Hayden said. “Do you have any thoughts on how we might be able to tie in getting some services, particularly for youth, to deal with the addiction of marijuana, and maybe some insurance coverage for that?”
Cornett said that’s something Oregon Recovers could consider.
“It’s something that we have to look at, along with other substances,” he said. “And we look forward to chatting with you further about that as your bill progresses.”