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Shannon Jones Isadore is the CEO and founder of the Oregon Change Clinic, which she identified as “the only culturally specific substance use disorder and mental health treatment center specializing in working with African Americans and U.S. veterans in Portland.”
Saundra Sorenson
Published: 31 January 2024

kate lieber introState Senate Majority Leader Kate Lieber (D-Portland)jason kropf introRep. Jason Kropf (D-Bend)House Bill 4002 is still being drafted, but as outlined last week, it aims to keep focus on increasing robust access to treatment while mollifying conservative critics with new sentencing guidelines. Last week, State Senate Majority Leader Kate Lieber (D-Portland) and Rep. Jason Kropf (D-Bend), cochairs of the Joint Interim Committee on Addiction and Community Safety Response, proposed substantive changes to Measure 110 that include again reclassifying small-scale drug possession as a class C misdemeanor, which they argue would decrease visible public drug use; offering individuals the opportunity to avoid arrest and charges by agreeing to be connected with an addiction services provider adding "intent to sell" as an arrestable offense; eliminating insurance and other hurdles to accessing opioid addiction treatments; and allowing treatment centers to hold intoxicated individuals up to three days without their consent, instead of the current two days.

But many, like the Oregon Black Brown Indigenous Advocacy Coalition (OBBIAC), argue that reintroducing criminal penalties for drug possession would amount to a return to the failed policies of the war on drugs and the disproportionate penalties levied against communities of color. Many Measure 110 supporters who testified during a Dec. 4 informational meeting at the capital echoed the refrain, “We cannot arrest our way out of this crisis.”

Critics of Measure 110 argue that is has empowered open-air drug use in public spaces; critics of the proposed changes to Measure 110, however, emphasized that the issue isn’t that Measure 110 has increased drug use, but rather that those who are homeless have virtually no access to treatment and nowhere to go to mitigate addiction risk factors or public visibility.

In a letter to the state legislature, OBBIAC expressed frustration with a lack of support in implementing Measure 110 changes.

“We are troubled over the appalling lack of organizational capacity within the (Oregon Health Authority) to partner with the (Oregon Advocacy Commissions) in distributing the promised funding to set up the BHRNs and begin delivering much-needed services,” the letter read. “These delays in adhering to funding timelines have resulted in preventable deaths in Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities.”

The coalition asked that in allocating Measure 110 funds, the state be much more prompt and also prioritize culturally and linguistically specific organizations that serve the BIPOC community, and that have already been approved as behavioral health resource networks.

They also asked that the state health authority dedicate at least one full-time staff member to serve as project manager and administrative support for the OAC.

Lived Experience

Shannon Jones Isadore is the CEO and founder of the Oregon Change Clinic, which she identified as “the only culturally specific substance use disorder and mental health treatment center specializing in working with African Americans and U.S. veterans in Portland.” She testified about how forcing treatment on drug users can actually put them at greater risk.

“Forced treatment doesn’t work,” Jones Isadore said.

“Treatments work best when people are ready for it.

"We have a moral and public health imperative to make treatment available to everyone who needs it. It doesn’t make sense to create new laws and mandates that will be ineffective and put people at risk. If forced into treatment, people can grit their teeth long enough to get through it, check the boxes necessary to get released. But if they weren’t ready for it, then it becomes a dangerous situation. People go back on the streets, they continue to use. Their tolerance is now lower, and we increase the chances of overdose.”

A better solution, Jones Isadore said, would be to dramatically increase street services and outreach.

“Slapping handcuffs on people who aren’t ready that are already in trauma, hauling them away, as some people are proposing, would be cruel and I don’t know that we should force our police to be in that position,” she added.

Jones Isadore also touched on the devastating impact an arrest record can have on one’s professional and housing prospects, arguing that it does no good to re-introduce that risk to already vulnerable populations in need of services.

With Measure 110 funding, Jones Isadore said, her organization has been able to remodel a rundown motel within the city to accommodate six-month intensive outpatient treatment stays.

“As a United States Marine, accountability is important,” she said. “We hold people accountable. People that are in our treatment and in our housing are accountable for where they are, they must attend treatment regularly. We do urinalysis, they must account for where they are if they're not at our housing or at the clinic. We do curfews, room inspections, and then I also show up to do military-level inspections.”

She took exception to misinformation in some previous testimonies.

“The Oregon Health Authority reported a 134% increase in people seeking SUD treatment,” Jones Isadore said.

“Thousands of people are getting help.

"OHA data is the right data for us to look at.”

Larry Turner, founder and president of the Fresh Out community re-entry program, alluded to the state’s racist, exclusionary history and argued communities of color continue to be barred from making decisions for themselves about their own communities.

Measure 110 has been an impactful resource for his organization and others like it, he said.

“Prior to us receiving access to care funds via ballot Measure 110, we were able to serve maybe only 100 individuals each year,” Turner said. “Since then, and up until this date, we’ve served over 650 African American individuals. Out of those 650 individuals, only four have returned to jail or prison.”

In light of such successes, he took issue with dismantling Measure 110 in so short a timeline. Turner was one of a group of addiction service providers who traveled to Portugal in November to observe the nation’s much-praised model of decriminalizing drugs while prioritizing health care methods to battle addiction.

“The most important thing I heard was that everybody got on the same page and it took five-and-a-half to eight years until they saw any significant changes in what was going on,” Turner said. “I’ve been working in addiction and social services for the past 26 years. It took us 50 years to get to this point where we are right now. So it’s not going to happen overnight. It’s going to take us time to get out of it.”

Eliminating Public Use

The proposed changes to Measure 110 come amid complaints that public drug use is impacting the safety and desirability of downtown Portland.

But some, like Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, argue the intent of Measure 110 was not to allow public consumption of drugs, and that with some legislative changes, police would be able to intervene when they observe drug use.

“A significant number of people suffering from addiction are using on the streets without appropriate interventions or care,” Wheeler said. “That leaves other Oregonians feeling unsafe as they encounter drug use, paraphernalia, residue and toxic fumes in public spaces. We know that the city can’t solve these problems without the state.”

A 2021 decision by the Oregon Court of Appeals changed how individuals can be prosecuted for drug dealing: Oregon v. Hubbell made it much more difficult to prosecute individuals carrying large amounts of illicit drugs. Whereas before police could arrest on the presumption that the individual intended to sell the drugs, the Hubbell decision essentially requires police to catch dealers in the act. That has informed the lack of police response to public drug use.

Wheeler referred to Hubbell and stated: “Law enforcement needs to have the ability to prohibit open use of drugs on our sidewalks, streets and in our public spaces. Right now we’re preempted. We need the preemption lifted.”  

Social Comorbidities

Some service providers pointed out that public drug use is the result of overlapping public health crises: addiction and a lack of resources for the houseless.

andy mendenhall introAndy MendenhallAndy Mendenhall, a family medicine and addiction medicine physician and president and CEO of Central City Concern, described those undergoing housing and addiction crises as “stuck in a system of shoots and ladders across literally every aspect of behavioral healthcare, housing, crisis response and public safety services” in a “siloed system.”

“Simply put, we do not have enough of the right things, in particular treatment services and shelter and supportive housing,” he said.

“I want to offer tactically what would benefit public safety in Portland and potentially be a model for other regions,” Mendenhall continued. “First, a specifically designed place for folks to go and to be brought when they are impaired, at risk and unsafe. Particularly folks who don’t otherwise have anywhere else to go; folks who live outside. Many are currently inappropriately being served by the front doors of both standard and psychiatric emergency rooms, but we know not everyone who is impaired and at-risk first needs to go to a hospital, nor to a jail.”

He acknowledged that fentanyl users suffering withdrawal and those experiencing psychosis would need medical supervision, but described a kind of triage system that would give homeless individuals greater safety in a non-public space – and be far less expensive than the current system of emergency room visits as primary healthcare. 

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