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Tight labor market among factors hampering Oregon Measure 110, new audit finds

Oregon's drug decriminalization law came with additional spending intended to promote recovery; a new report on the rollout so far comes as lawmakers consider changes.
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December 21, 2023

Oregon’s controversial, voter-backed drug decriminalization and treatment law has generated more than $260 million to expand recovery services to “highly vulnerable people,” according to an audit released Wednesday by the secretary of state’s office.

At the same time, auditors say the Oregon Health Authority, the state agency that helps administer grants aimed at helping those with substance use disorders, needs better data to track and illustrate the impact of Ballot Measure 110.

The audit also notes that some grantees have been slow to spend the money they’ve received, citing a tight labor market and the challenges of hiring qualified health care staff willing to do work that can quickly lead to burnout.

“Some contributors to low early spending, such as front-end delays in funding and construction delays, should resolve with time,” the audit states. “Others, including hiring difficulties and referral limitations, could persist.”

Oregon Secretary of State LaVonne Griffin-Valade said this latest audit is a tool for the state health authority to put structures in place to better administer how treatment services are funded.

“There has been a lot of interest around Measure 110, and I have no doubt that many will want to look to this audit as a measuring stick for the law,” Griffin-Valade said in a statement. “That would be a mistake, as this report is narrowly focused on answering questions about the OHA’s grant making program. Within that scope, it’s a valuable tool.”

The audit comes amid widespread concern in Oregon — and across the country — about a spike in overdoses and deaths caused primarily by illicit fentanyl, which is extremely cheap and abundant. In Oregon, lawmakers are weighing whether to once again criminalize possession of small amounts of drugs during their upcoming legislative session in February. Voters passed Measure 110 in November 2020 with more than 58% in support of decriminalizing possession of small amounts of drugs while also boosting funding for treatment.

Part of Measure 110 doles out grants for community-based services across the state using about two-thirds of the tax revenue from the state’s legal cannabis industry. The funds are administered by the Oversight and Accountability Council, which is composed of health care practitioners and addiction specialists.

In many cases, Measure 110-funded treatment services are new or have just come online. But the addiction crisis in which Oregon finds itself has quickly outpaced nascent services as overdoses have spiked to all-time highs.

“Since it’s been implemented, the top question on everyone’s minds has been: Is Measure 110 working?” said Kip Memmott, audits director for the Oregon secretary of state’s office. “It’s a complicated question to answer and much of the public conversation about Measure 110 is outside the scope of this review. We identified important progress being made, but it’s clear there is still much work to be done. We’ll be conducting another audit of Measure 110 where we plan to more directly assess program efficacy.”

This article was originally published by Oregon Public Broadcasting. It has been republished here with permission.