OPINION: Let's change how Oregon deals with drug addiction
Our current system for treating drug addiction is failing Oregonians. I know this firsthand.
For over two decades, I used methamphetamine and alcohol addictively. I became homeless, filthy, unable to care for myself. I would yell at traffic and stop cars. I was in and out of jail, the ER, and hospital psychiatric wards. I struggled with mental health issues that can become unmanageable with addiction. My reality was horrifying. I often had no idea who or where I was. I became unable to parent my children. As an anonymous source once wrote, addiction causes "annihilation of all the things worthwhile in life. It engulfs all whose lives touch the sufferers." For most of that time, I didn't even know what treatment and recovery were. It took me more than 20 years to finally be able to get access to it. When I did, it transformed my life.Physical sobriety was not enough to turn my life around. Because of my criminal record, no one would rent me an apartment or hire me for a job. Thanks to the compassion of several individuals — a kind woman at Goodwill who helped me craft a resume, an employer willing to take a chance on me, parents and then a boss who let me live at their place — I was able to make progress. This is often not the case for many. Without a system that supports treatment and recovery, many fall through the cracks, and are stuck in the cycle of addiction and jail. In recovery, I was able to get and keep a job. I started as a landscaper and several years later I got a job as a peer support specialist. In 2014, I started as a part-time program assistant with the Mental Health and Addiction Association of Oregon (MHAAO). I got my undergraduate and graduate degrees. I was promoted to program director of MHAAO. Today, I serve as executive director, overseeing 40 employees and a $3 million budget. I'm grateful to help others find their way out of addiction and into recovery more quickly than I did.Health care professionals agree that addiction is a disease. But in Oregon — where one in 11 Oregonians suffer from addiction — we treat it as a crime rather than a health crisis. Instead of providing better access to treatment and long-term community-based recovery, we impose harsh criminal penalties for low-level possession of drugs. The current system ruins lives and doesn't work. That's why I'm one of many Oregonians working to change our approach. The More Treatment campaign, which just launched, is working to put a measure on the November 2020 ballot that you'll get to vote on. If successful, we'll expand access and funding to drug addiction treatment and services and shift to a health-based approach to drugs, which includes reclassifying some simple misdemeanor drug-possession offenses. Anyone who wants and needs treatment will be able to get it — not just those who have money and the right insurance plan.The Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act, Initiative Petition 44, does all this without new taxes. It's paid for from Oregon's existing marijuana tax. This Act provides an opportunity to fix a broken system and offer those struggling with addiction a new chance at life. It's an opportunity we must not miss.
Janie Gullickson is executive director of the Mental Health and Addiction Association of Oregon. She is a chief petitioner of Initiative Petition 44. Learn more at yesonip44.org.
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