Addiction is a health issue that deserves a health-based response
Substance use disorders and addiction have been recognized as health conditions by the American Medical Association for more than 30 years, but in Oregon we still treat addiction as a crime.
Oregon is in the midst of a drug addiction crisis that is killing people every day. As medical doctors, we are on the front lines of this epidemic. We see how addiction wreaks havoc on our patients' physical health, mental well-being and the ability to live full, meaningful lives.
We see the toll addiction takes on families and communities. We see the pain of loss when addiction claims lives. We sit in clinic offices and hospital rooms with people every day who feel hopeless, knowing how challenging it can be to find a way out.
Oregon's current approach to drug addiction often involves arresting and jailing someone for possession of even a small amount of drugs, rather than connect them with support and services to help them get well. While in jail, some patients undergo excruciating detox, without initiation of evidence-based treatments for their use disorders.
While this practice is cruel and could be argued on moral grounds, it is also ineffective. It may be tempting to make the argument that incarceration could serve as a gateway to treatment for people with addictions, but this has not been the case. In fact, incarceration for addiction exposes people to the harms of jail — increased HIV and hepatitis C rates, decreased access to housing and jobs, and increased risk of overdose after release — without improving rates of drug use or successful recovery.
As medical providers, when our patients are incarcerated for drug use we do not sigh in relief for the treatments and services they will receive. We lose sleep hoping we can find ways to keep them safe when they get out.
We're creating a vicious cycle that ruins lives, and as physicians, we see the fallout from Oregon's failed approach to addiction every day. That's why we're supporting Measure 110, which offers a more effective and compassionate approach.
Measure 110 ushers in a new era that shifts from punishment and ineffective, expensive incarceration to great expansion of access to drug treatment and recovery services. It will remove unfair, harsh penalties for simple drug possession, and instead offer people struggling with addiction the opportunity to receive a health assessment, and subsequently connect to treatment, counseling and services.
Oregon's addiction crisis impacts people from all backgrounds, their families, our neighbors, and our communities. It's heartbreaking to see patients eager and willing to get help, and we have little to nothing to offer them. These lack of resources impact urban and rural communities, alike. It is not uncommon for wait lists to be weeks or even months long. By the time a space opens up, it may be too late. There are so many barriers to getting treatment in Oregon that people sometimes die while they are trying to get treatment.
This isn't just something we see in our clinics. It's a crisis that's impacting Oregonians every day. The numbers speak for themselves.
• Our state ranks nearly last in access to drug treatment.
• One in 10 Oregonians struggle with substance use disorders.
• About 282,000 people in Oregon have needed treatment within the last year but have been unable to get it. That's more people than the entire population of Eugene.
• One to two Oregonians die from drug overdose every day.
We simply cannot afford to wait any longer.
Because Measure 110 will shift us from punishing drug addiction to using 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, the Oregon Nurses Association, Oregon School Psychologists' Association, the Law Enforcement Action Partnership, the Crime Victims' Rights Alliance and the Academy of Family Physicians.
As medical professionals, we know how to help people with addictions; we just need the resources to offer them. Measure 110 makes that possible.
Please, give us the tools we need to truly help our patients with addiction. Join us in voting "yes."
Kelsi Manley, MD, practices Internal Medicine in Portland. l. Donald E. Girard, MD, is professor emeritus at Oregon Health Sciences University School of Medicine in Portland.
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