The state's Measure 110 oversight council has approved $20.5 million for addiction and recovery services in Washington County.
Measure 110 has generated some $302 million so far for treatment services statewide, officials say. All of that money has now been approved for distribution.
Washington County service providers and local officials have been waiting for this money since 2021, when the voter-approved measure — which decriminalized the possession of so-called user amounts of illicit drugs in Oregon — went into effect. The money will go out to providers in increments.
One advocate said the cash infusion is "huge" for health care organizations and other groups trying to assist people in battling addiction.
"I would say a positive impact," said Tera Hurst, executive director of the Health Justice Recovery Alliance. "You're looking at $20.5 million funneled into Washington County, specifically to increase access to life-saving services. So that is supportive, transitional and long-term housing, overdose prevention services, peer support and recovery services, low-barrier addiction service."
In addition to decriminalizing drug possession, Measure 110 also set up a Drug Treatment and Recovery Services Fund. That fund is fed by revenue from taxes on marijuana, which Oregonians voted to legalize in 2014 — effectively channeling money from a legal drug trade into services for people battling an addiction to drugs or alcohol.
Hurst is also excited about outreach services that will connect community members with treatment made possible by the new state funding.
Hurst said looking back, it took longer to allocate and release money from the Drug Treatment and Recovery Services Fund than service providers and organizations had hoped. But bureaucracy can be slow, Hurst acknowledged, and the COVID-19 pandemic didn't help.
"It's really important to recognize that these things take time. It's not an excuse. It's just we don't want to rush it so much that we don't get an effective system," Hurst said. "And we can't slow-walk it so much that people are dying left and right and our communities are torn apart."
Measure 110 and the new Behavioral Health Resource Networks popping up across the state are completely changing how addiction and recovery services work in Oregon, Hurst said. While she and other advocates see this as a positive transformation in how Oregon confronts its long-running addiction crisis, she cautions that the process will take time, and the public may not see changes immediately.
Monta Knudson is the executive director of Bridges to Change, an organization that's part of Washington County's network of providers offering addiction services.
In a statement, Knudson said the funding "signifies that we're finally on track when it comes to supporting Oregonians struggling with substance use. Transformational, systemic change like this takes time. We didn't dis-invest in these services overnight; it took decades to get here. And even with the huge infusion of resources from Measure 110, it's going to take time for these organizations to fully meet the needs of the community."
So far, Washington County has 19 approved Behavioral Health Resource Networks, according to the state.
"I don't want to give people false hopes that everything's going to change in six months," Hurst said. "I think that this is a gradual change that we have to really invest in, because when we do quick fixes, they don't work. … We need stable, sustainable funding for these programs so (providers) can build them."
But when the changes do come — and the addiction crisis is motivating providers to make it happen sooner — Hurst said those services will be made available to people as soon as possible.
While opinions of drug decriminalization vary — a number of state prosecutors, including Washington County District Attorney Kevin Barton, have been critical of Measure 110's approach — Hurst said she thinks it is already having a positive effect in Washington County.
"A lot of people are not bearing the barriers of criminalization like they would've two years ago," Hurst said. "And you can't necessarily prove prevention, but that's exactly what that is. Somebody who maybe had a small amount of drugs … would have normally gone through the criminal justice system and come out with barriers to not being able to get housing or employment, which are two things that we all know are what we need to be successful in our society."
Now that the funds have been approved, Hurst said she's excited for providers to start forming more networks with each other, which is the whole point of the new system.
The ultimate goal is for people to have "no wrong door" for accessing addiction treatment or recovery services and no cost barrier to get the help they need. Many providers have already set up such a system, but now they can serve more people in the county — and work more collaboratively through their networks.
There will be, and have been, bumps in the road, but now it's time to work through that and create a "better system of care," Hurst said.
"That means when somebody needs help, they're not having to take five intake forms to start receiving services, but they can be assessed by one and then go over to whoever in the network provides the services that make the most sense for this person," Hurst said. "I think that that's the next phase of this … really getting to do the fun stuff, which is the true implementation, service delivery setup and delivering the services."
For more information from the Health Justice Recovery Alliance, an organization heavily involved in the implementation of Measure 110, visit healthjusticerecovery.org.
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