On Monday, December 11, Oregon Governor Kotek released the Portland Central City Task Force’s recommendations calling on state lawmakers to roll back the state’s drug decriminalization law, ban public drug use, and expand police presence in Portland. The task force also recommends expanding the capacity and services needed to support people experiencing homelessness and suffering from addiction. While the recommendations aimed at enhancing resources to address the fentanyl and overdose crisis are promising, increasing criminalization threatens to undermine any effort to support people suffering on the street.
“We share deep frustration for the continuous suffering we’re seeing in places like Portland and San Francisco. The data is clear that we need to centralize responses to people on the streets: increasing street outreach, creating community-led crisis-response teams, increasing access to evidence-based treatment, and allowing overdose prevention centers (which brings drug use indoors, and allows for connections to care). It’s deeply disappointing to see some elected officials increase public suffering by doubling down on the false promise of criminalization and forced treatment. Those interventions have long played a contributing role to what we are experiencing on the streets in the past and today. We cannot arrest or punish our way out of this problem,” said Kassandra Frederique, Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “Criminalization will not solve the issues on the street because it does not address why people are homeless—and many people cycle in and out of jail, ending up back in the street after an arrest without meaningful connection to support or care. It also increases overdose risk, increases racial disparities in the criminal legal system, disrupts treatment for those who seek it, and saddles people with criminal records that will serve as barriers to housing, employment, education, and other services for the rest of their lives. We urge Governor Kotek and other leaders to continue to make more accessible the services and supports people need to address their needs while ensuring safety for our communities, without false promises and failed practices of criminalization and coercion.”
Because many people using drugs in public are suffering from homelessness, penalizing public use amounts to criminalizing poverty. Rather than returning to a broken system, advocates underscore the need to find new and more effective ways to implement programs and services that provide people with the support they need.
“The task force’s recommendations to declare a fentanyl emergency, centralize coordination, increase street outreach, and add more detox and treatment capacity show a commitment to handle this crisis with urgency and real action. If these recommendations were to be implemented, they would quickly reduce public use on our streets. Increased criminalization will not work and is the wrong direction. Criminalizing public use and increasing law enforcement interactions with people in crisis fail to address the real issue and will only cause harm — particularly to communities of color and people living on the streets. Portland already has the fifth worst arrest disparities in the nation; reverting to failed drug war policies will only make this disparity worse. We need solutions that free up law enforcement to focus on violent crime, instead of implementing controversial policies that disproportionately harm Black and Brown communities and our houseless neighbors. We need to invest in proven policies to expand behavioral healthcare and housing. Without more housing, people will be released back to the streets, making recovery even more challenging,” said Larry Turner, on behalf of the Health Justice Recovery Alliance, founding member of the Oregon Black Brown Indigenous Advocacy Coalition.
About the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA)
The Drug Policy Alliance is the leading organization in the U.S. working to end the drug war, repair its harms, and build a non-punitive, equitable, and regulated drug market. We envision a world that embraces the full humanity of people, regardless of their relationship to drugs. We advocate that the regulation of drugs be grounded in evidence, health, equity, and human rights. In collaboration with other movements and at every policy level, we change laws, advance justice, and save lives. Learn more at drugpolicy.org.