Umatilla, Morrow Counties & Others to Have New Addiction Programs

0
150

By Ben Botkin/Oregon Capital Chronicle

A dozen urban and rural Oregon counties plan to have new drug addiction treatment programs available in September, when the state’s new misdemeanor penalty for drug possession takes effect.

When Oregon lawmakers passed House Bill 4002, which recriminalizes low-level drug possession starting in September, they asked counties to step up with new deflection programs to help drug users avoid jail and criminal charges and start down the path to treatment and recovery.

During the last legislative session, 23 of Oregon’s 36 counties said they were willing to participate – and be eligible for a portion of state funding to start the programs. All other counties are still eligible to apply for funding in the second round of grants, which is open.

Oregon lawmakers on Thursday received an update from police, providers and the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission, which is responsible for doling out the grants. The behind-the-scenes work will lay the groundwork for changes in Oregon communities after the rollback of Measure 110, which Oregon voters passed in 2020 to decriminalize possession of hard drugs and put a share of cannabis revenue toward drug treatment programs.

Ken Sanchagrin, executive director of the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission, said counties are enthusiastic about the potential to start new programs. At the same time, officials have concerns about the tight timeline with the new misdemeanor – and the programs – starting in September.

“We’re all trying to sprint together on this, and that’s what we tell folks,” Sanchagrin told the Joint Addiction and Community Safety Response Committee on Thursday.

Since Measure 110 took effect in 2021, police officers have been powerless to arrest people publicly using drugs. Once the new law takes effect, they’ll be able to help people using drugs connect to new programs – with potential criminal charges as a motivating factor if they decline to participate.

This session, state lawmakers allocated $20.7 million for counties and tribes to start deflection programs. That’s part of a wider package of $211 million lawmakers allocated to fight drug addiction, much of it spurred by the fentanyl overdose crisis.

The programs will be designed on the local level and each county will have flexibility to tailor their programs based on geography and needs. At the same time, they’re also sharing ideas. In a symposium earlier this month in Salem, county officials and treatment providers gathered to trade ideas and discuss the work ahead.

Sanchagrin said some counties, especially rural ones, have concerns about long-term viability of the programs. Under the funding formula, counties with small populations receive at least $150,000. For rural counties that cover large swaths of land, that’s not much money.

But Sanchagrin said he encourages counties to start small and scale up.

Kevin Campbell, executive director of the Oregon Association of Chiefs of Police, told lawmakers that counties are all different with various challenges.

“Some have resource challenges, some have partnership challenges they’re having to work through,” said Campbell, who also testified on behalf of Oregon sheriffs. “I think that the good news about this is, in a way, what we’re doing is we’re creating this laboratory of effort around the state, where counties are going to have to innovate.”

The counties planning to start programs in September include Washington, Clackamas and Multnomah, as well as Baker, Clatsop, Deschutes, Gilliam, Grant, Jackson, Klamath, Morrow and Umatilla. Marion County already has a similar program in place.

Crook, Harney and Lane counties plan to have their programs start in October, while Hood River, Wasco and Benton counties are aiming for early 2025 starts.

Those timelines are just estimates at this point.

This story first appeared in the Oregon Capital Chronicle.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here