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OPINION: We need to treat addiction like the sickness it is, rather than as a crime.

COURTESY PHOTO - Taryn Seidel-HartAs an emergency healthcare provider, I support Measure 110.

I have worked in emergency medicine for 15 years. What is happening right now with drug addiction in Oregon is so dire, I felt I must speak out.

Oregon is in the midst of an addiction crisis. One to two people in Oregon die from drug overdoses every day, while one in 11 Oregonians is addicted to drugs. Oregon ranks nearly last of all states in access to drug treatment. At the same time, Oregon treats addiction as a crime, arresting people for low-level possession of drugs. This approach saddles people with a criminal record that makes it harder to obtain housing, employment, a credit card, or a student loan. Oregon has scant support or resources to help people with addictions, and we're creating additional barriers and trauma by sending them to jail.

The result? People are dying. They are afraid to ask for help because they don't want to get arrested. I see them come into the Emergency Department having overdosed, or with other health issues. I can treat their immediate healthcare needs, but there are no treatment resources I can offer them.

That's why I'm a passionate supporter of Measure 110, a ballot initiative we'll get to vote on this November. Measure 110 shifts Oregon toward a health-based approach to addiction that works. It expands access to lifesaving treatment and recovery services. It will fix a broken system, and in turn make my job less heartbreaking. Instead of discharging a patient and hoping for the best, I'll be able to connect them with services that are patient-centered, trauma-informed, and evidence based.

I know that this approach works — not just because we have data that proves it, but from firsthand experience. In the beginning of my career in the Emergency Department, I was able to connect people with addictions to services, regardless of health insurance. There were outpatient counselors who worked with patients to determine their needs and develop an action plan. We had lists of resources we could call to help our patients. People could go right from the ED to a treatment center. But as budget cuts became more severe, services became limited, and some closed altogether.

I had a patient who struggled with addiction and was in and out of the ED quite frequently. One time, she came in for a minor issue and told me that she was ready to seek help for her addiction. She was worn out, homeless, willing to do anything for her recovery. I tried to connect her with services, but there was nothing available. I had to discharge her back onto the street.

Two weeks later, she was brought back in via ambulance, this time unconscious and overdosing. As the team tried to revive her, I heard coins falling from her pockets. Her pockets were full of recovery milestone coins — mostly for 24 hours. She had been trying to get by with only meetings until she could access treatment. We weren't able to save her.

To this day, I wonder how things would have been different if I'd been able to get her treatment when she was there three weeks before. Vote yes on Measure 110.

Taryn Seidel-Hart works in primary and emergency care. She lives and works in Hillsboro.

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