NewsNational News


Oregon decriminalized drugs in 2020. Now officials are declaring a fentanyl state of emergency

Posted at 9:03 AM, Jan 31, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-31 11:04:00-05

The governor of Oregon has declared an emergency in the city of Portland a few years after the state became the first in the nation to largely decriminalize drug use.

Oregon paved the way as the first state to decriminalize drug use, passing Measure 110 in 2020. Instead of incarcerating drug users, the measure focused on addiction and recovery, with Portland police officers hand out citations for public drug use. People can have a chance for treatment and have their fines waived if they contact specific rehabilitation services, but calling that hotline is voluntary.

"We've had three years of this law that has not delivered on the promise that voters thought they were getting," Washington County district attorney Kevin Barton said.

The hope was that a more humane approach would help curb addiction in the state, which saw nearly a thousand accidental overdose deaths in 2022. However, overdose deaths have continued to rise since 2020.

Now, the state, county and city have all declared a fentanyl state of emergency, and the state now appears to be taking a new approach to address the opioid crisis plaguing its largest city. The 90-day emergency order for fentanyl use issued by Gov. Tina Kotek establishes a command center and more coordination between emergency management and health services.

"This is a crisis that has been developing for decades," Haven Wheelock, the harm reduction manager of medical and youth care nonprofit center Outside In, told CBS affiliate KOIN. "And if this is what it's going to take to get the attention and the care and the funding and the coordination that this tragic issue deserves, then I'm going to remain hopeful about that."

Wheelock said that she hopes the emergency will help fix the current crisis, though she added that no government magic wand or "90-day plan" will fix the crisis. Meanwhile, Jesse Cornett, the policy director for recovery organization Oregon Recovers, told KOIN that his organization called for an emergency declaration in August. He said he hopes that officials will institute additional steps like expanding the declaration to be statewide, setting clear goals, and addressing the need for immediate access to treatment.

"If you talk to any police officer in the metro area, in Portland specifically, they don't even have anywhere to take anyone that's in the crisis right now," Cornett told KOIN. "So there are some immediate first steps including a sobering center that should be taken."

Some Portland residents say they don't want to see Oregon's law repealed. Ebony Brawley said that it helped her avoid prison and turn her life around.

"Because of Measure 110, I was able to change my story and break those chains, and provide a life for myself and for my daughter that she probably wouldn't have had," Brawley said.