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Legislature earmarks funding for youth prevention, treatment

Bill to accompany Measure 110 rewrite boosts funding for fentanyl awareness, other programs
Students in a South Eugene High School are taught using cooperative learning, a method shown to address substance use. Such efforts lack state support. | EMILY GREEN/THE LUND REPORT
March 7, 2024

With Oregon adolescents experiencing one of the country’s highest rates of substance use disorders, lawmakers have approved roughly $27 million to fund youth prevention and recovery programs as well as support for families with young children. 

The money is included in House Bill 5204, which appropriates $211 million to an array of substance use, public health, criminal justice and other services. The bill easily passed both legislative chambers last week and comes as Oregon’s education establishment has struggled to respond to a surge in the availability of fentanyl, an inexpensive and powerful synthetic opioid. 

Earlier lawmakers approved a bill partially unraveling the state’s drug-decriminalization law known as Measure 110. Supporters characterized HB 5204 as a companion bill to advance substance use treatment goals while paying for court staff, public defenders and other support to ease the effects that re-criminalizing drugs is expected to have on the criminal justice system. 

The bill’s inclusion of prevention funding and related spending is key, state Rep. Lisa Reynolds, a Portland Democrat and pediatrician, said on the House floor last week. 

The latest numbers, she said, “show that 90% of adults with a substance use disorder started drugs as youth. It is so important to prevent youth substance use disorder in the first place, or at the very least to delay the initiation of drug use until 21 or 24 or older.” 

Jon Epstein,an advocate for fentanyl awareness and additional youth prevention efforts, echoed that in an interview with The Lund Report.

“People really are thinking that we can’t just focus on criminal justice and treatment,” Epstein told The Lund Report. “If we don’t reduce the number of people entering a cycle of harmful drug use, we will never get out of this problem.”

He hailed the bill’s passage and said its funding will provide youth treatment beds, which are in such short supply in Oregon that kids are sent out of state. Additionally, the bill will fund programs for kids whose family life is affected by drug use. 

He and wife Jennifer both work remotely for California-based nonprofit called Song for Charlie that has pushed to increase youth opioid awareness around the country. Their advocacy was sparked by the death of their son, Cal, who overdosed on fentanyl after taking a pill he thought was oxycontin at their Portland home. 

Moving upstream

Public schools are required by state law to use research-based substance use prevention strategies. But an investigation by The Lund Report found most students aren’t receiving prevention programs that meet that standard. 

This bill would not address that situation, which Reynolds has said should be a priority. But Epstein and others say the new funding represents important progress.

Oregon ranks third in the nation for the highest prevalence of youth substance use disorder, according to Mental Health America. Overdoses among teens aged 15 to 19 have grown faster in Oregon than any other state over the last six years, according to not-yet-finalized federal data.

Last session, lawmakers directed the Oregon Health Authority and other state agencies to develop curricula on the dangers of fentanyl and other synthetic opioids. But lawmakers didn’t fund the mandate until now. 

HB 5204 directs nearly $2 million to the state Department of Education to develop a curriculum designed to educate middle and high school students on the dangers of synthetic opioid use, according to a legislative document. The money, a one-time addition to the state’s current two-year budget, also funds a social media campaign targeting students from kindergarten through 12th grade. 

Additionally, the amount includes $188,595 for a permanent substance use prevention staff position at the department. 

Epstein hopes the bill helps better educate students that a dose of Adderall or oxycontin someone is offering them on social media could be cut with a lethal dose of fentanyl.

 On the House floor, Reynolds pointed to the bill’s other “upstream investments,” including $3.2 million for the Nurse-Family Partnership, a nonprofit that assigns registered nurses to mothers pregnant with their first child. The nurses provide regular home visits until the child’s second birthday, which have been credited with improving health outcomes

Additionally, she highlighted $800,000 for the state Alcohol and Drug Policy Commission to develop a youth substance use disorder strategic prevention plan.

The directs $32.5 million for behavioral health and addiction treatment facilities across the state. 

Included in that money is $4 million for youth treatment nonprofit 4D Recovery will receive to acquire a new facility in Multnomah County for residential and outpatient services and $5 million for Benton County Health Department Behavioral Health Division to relocate Children and Family Services. 

The bill awards other funding for programs and facilities focused on youth health and drug use prevention. They include: 

  • $2.5 million for the East Multnomah Outreach, Prevention, and Intervention program. Operated by the city of Gresham, the funding will help it expand to communities in east Multnomah County. 
  • $750,000 for the Systems of Care Advisory Council, which coordinates activities of child-serving state agencies, to partner with an “established national organization that focuses on education and training regarding drug endangered children,” according to a budget summary. 
  • $1 million for a peer mentoring program run by Portland Opportunities Industrialization Center.
  • $2.7 million in ongoing funding for Relief Nurseries, a network of nurseries that are focused on preventing child abuse and neglect. 

Funding for treatment in jail, training, others

The bill funds other programs intended to improve access to treatment or prevent Oregonians from needing it in the first place. They include: 

  • $10 million for Oregon Jail-Based Medications for Opioid Use Disorder Fund, which provides counseling and medication for prisoners addicted to opioids. 
  • $3.2 million for 15 positions at the Oregon Health Authority. The positions will support Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics, which provide mental health or substance use treatment regardless of their ability to pay. They’ll also work on a study on increasing youth access to treatment for opioid use disorders. 
  • $150,000 for detox services run by WomenFirst Transition and Referral Center. 
  • $4 million to regional universities to expand training of behavioral health workers.  

Speaking on the House floor in support of the bill, state Rep. Tawna Sanchez, D-Portland, said that while the spending seemed significant. But she added the money is for services the state needed “a long time ago” and will be needed “for some time to come.” 

“This is a drop in the bucket,” she said. “And it’s only the beginning.”

You can reach Jake Thomas at [email protected] or on at @jakethomas2009.