Opinion: Gov. Brown's 2021-23 budget reflects lack of commitment to end Oregon's addiction crisis
Earlier this month, Gov. Kate Brown released a proposed budget for 2021-23 that will cause more harm than good.
The governor has prioritized the billion-dollar beer and wine industry at the expense of Oregon families by failing to call for an increase in alcohol taxes. This decision is at odds with her previous commitments and will result in a continued increase in alcohol-related fatalities. Additionally, her proposal to delay funding for the implementation of Measure 110 will certainly result in an immediate increase in drug overdose deaths and a significant increase in demand on taxpayer funded social services. Both decisions are wrong-headed, costly and reflect a lack of commitment to ending Oregon's addiction crisis during a time when national substance use is up 20% and Oregon has experienced a 70% increase in drug overdoses since the onset of the pandemic.
According to the federal government, Oregon has the third highest untreated addiction rate and ranks 47th in access to treatment. According to the Oregon Health Authority, five Oregonians die each day due to alcohol. The alcohol-related fatality rate has increased 34% since 2001. Since Gov. Brown was sworn into office in 2015, over 12,300 Oregonians have perished due to alcohol. Additionally, untreated addiction is a leading cause of children placed in foster care, the incarceration of young people and individuals living on our streets. A disproportionate number of these Oregonians are BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of color).
For three years, a broad cross-section of stakeholders have been working to end Oregon's addiction crisis:
• In March of 2018, at the urging of Oregon Recovers, Gov. Brown , declared untreated addiction a public health crisis and signed bi-partisan legislation requiring the Alcohol and Drug Policy Commission (ADPC) to develop a strategic plan for ending the crisis.
• In February 2020 the ADPC delivered to Gov. Brown and Oregon legislators a strategic plan to build a new addiction recovery continuum-of-care that is the collective work of over 100 stakeholder organizations. At that time, Gov. Brown publicly committed to advocating in her 2021-23 budget to raise beer and wine taxes in order to fund the partial implementation of the plan.
• In September 2020, state Rep. Tawna Sanchez introduced the "Addiction Crisis Recovery Act" for consideration in the 2021 legislative session which will raise the price of all alcohol 20% in order to reduce harmful underage drinking and binge drinking, the two leading contributors to Oregon's sky-high untreated addiction rates. The resources generated will be used to build the new system of care designed by the ADPC and its stakeholders.
• In October 2020 DHM Research released polling detailing that one in three Oregon families have a member who struggles with alcohol use. The poll also demonstrated that there is broad public support for raising the price of alcohol in order to reduce harmful, costly underage and binge drinking and to increase access to addiction recovery services.
• In December 2020 Gov. Brown proposes a budget that does not increase Oregon's beer and wine taxes and proposes to delay the funding required by Measure 110, a voter-approved measure which links decriminalization of personal possession of drugs to increased access to treatment and recovery support services.
Oregon Recovers and its many allies remain impressed with the courage of a broad spectrum of legislators and stakeholders who are committed to working to end Oregon's addiction crisis in the 2021 session. Oregon has virtually the lowest beer and wine taxes in the country, despite the substantive and destructive harm cheap alcohol causes to Oregon families. Beer and wine taxes have not increased in almost 40 years.
A bipartisan set of leaders across the state are committed to protecting our local alcohol producers while also ensuring the national billion-dollar alcohol industry pays their fair share for the harm caused to Oregonians by alcohol. The governor's lack of commitment to this multi-year effort will not be an obstacle to Oregon legislators — and the thousands of advocates across the state — who are working together to end Oregon's addiction crisis by securing passage of the Addiction Crisis Recovery Act in 2021.
Too many Oregon families are counting on us to succeed.
Mike Marshall is the executive director of Oregon Recovers and a person in long-term recovery from addiction.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.