DocumentariesIn Real Life


In Real Life: The Oregon Experiment

As ground-breaking drug reforms are rolled back in Oregon, lawmakers and advocates weigh what went wrong, and what might help going forward.
In Real Life: The Oregon Experiment
Posted at 8:00 PM, Jun 09, 2024

Four years ago Oregon did something unique - they became the first US state ever to decriminalize drugs. The goal was to emphasize treatment over punishment for those with substance use disorder. With Ballot Measure 110, more than $100 million annually would go towards addiction services, and the program would be partly funded by Oregon’s tax revenue from the marijuana industry . Instead of being arrested, people in possession of small amounts of drugs, including meth and fentanyl would receive a ticket. They could pay a $100 citation or the fee could be waived if they called the statewide Addiction Recovery Center hotline provided to them.

But from the very beginning advocates started to see problems in the rollout. While Measure 110 went into effect February of 2021, funding did not reach service providers until 16 months later. Some funding went to various harm reduction and peer services, as well as housing. But anything covered by medicaid did not receive funding including detox and inpatient treatment. advocates like Solara Salazar, the founder and executive director of Cielo Treatment Center, recommend against patients trying to get into an inpatient treatment program as the waitlists can be up to 4-5 months. “I’d have to leave Oregon to go get resources,” said Shilain Patel, a client of Cielo Treatment Center, who struggled for years with substance use disorder. “Basically I'd walk out of state until an ambulance would find me and or a cop would see me.”

While the rollout faced critical delays and errors, concerns over public safety continued to grow. “We had at one point basically an open air drug market,” said Officer David Baer of the Portland Police Department. “Public drug use became my full-time job and it continues to be its point.” And to make matters worse, a study by NYU and the CDC found a pandemic and the growing presence of fentanyl in the state played a major role in the sudden uptick of overdoses. By the spring of 2023, 63% of voters supported bringing back criminal penalties for drug possession. The decriminalization experiment seemed to fail in Oregon. And yet 5,000 miles away, a small coastal country has decriminalized drugs for over 20 years.

In Real Life: State of Exception

Latin America and Caribbean

In Real Life: State of Exception

Kevin Clancy
4:36 PM, Dec 03, 2023

In the 1990’s Portugal was consumed by the lethal opioid, heroin. The country had the highest HIV infection rate in the European Union, in part due to needle sharing. Political leaders took dramatic action with a sweeping new policy. . Anyone caught using illegal drugs would go in front of a dissuasion commission, a group made up of a psychologist, a social worker and a legal aid. Collectively they would decide on a treatment plan depending on each individual's needs and the majority of the cost would be covered by the state. Within 10 years overdose and HIV rates dropped by over 80%. “The big thing is to offer treatment to all those who want it, not just to all those who need it,” said Dr. João Goulão the architect of Portugal’s drug policy and the Director General for the country’s Institute for Addictive Behaviors and Dependencies. Portugal also focuses a majority of its policy on harm reduction work. This includes consumption sites, also known as overdose prevention sites, where people can use drugs under the watchful eye of medical professionals in order to prevent the spread of disease and possible overdoses. Vans travel across the outskirts of Lisbon dispensing clean needles, medical checkups and methadone - a drug used in treatment for opioid use disorder. But in the US, methadone remains under strict federal guidelines that limit its use. In Oregon less than one in five opioid treatment facilities were licensed to use methadone.

At the start of 2024 - House Bill 4002 passed overwhelmingly in the state legislature, re-criminalizing drug possession and marking a historic reversal of reform. Under the new law counties are encouraged to offer treatment and probation before prison time - which can last up to six months. The city of Portland is planning on creating a 24-hour dropoff sobering center for people arrested for using drugs,instead of jail. But the clock is ticking to build new infrastructure by the time the law goes into effect on Sept 1, 2024. Democratic State Representative Rob Nosse knows the schedule is tight, telling In Real Life, “I think we're gonna probably build that airplane while we go.”