NY Times: Treating Addiction as a Crime Doesn’t Work. What Oregon Is Doing Just Might.

NY Times: Treating Addiction as a Crime Doesn’t Work. What Oregon Is Doing Just Might.

By Maia Szalavitz, NY Times 

Morgan Godvin arrived at the Multnomah County Inverness jail in Oregon in June 2013. She had volunteered to be locked up during a drug-court appearance for felony heroin possession. Like many Americans, she believed that incarceration would help her recover. But when she requested her prescribed addiction medication, the nurse “just laughed,” she said. Ms. Godvin was denied the gold standard treatment for opioid use disorder and was left to kick cold turkey.

Almost 10 years later, after having served four years for various drug-related convictions, Ms. Godvin is putting her painful experience to use. She’s been in recovery since 2015 and now sits on a state council helping to oversee Oregon’s sweeping decriminalization of drug possession, which passed as a ballot measure by a 58 percent majority vote in 2020. The idea is to have the people most harmed by the war on drugs — like those with addiction and people of color — help lead a peaceful resolution.

Today, people like Ms. Godvin who are caught in Oregon with personal-use amounts of heroin, methamphetamine or other drugs receive the equivalent of a traffic ticket, which carries a $100 fine. The fee can be waived by undergoing a health screening in which treatment may be recommended but not required. Selling or carrying quantities beyond those allowed for personal use can still result in prison time.

By decriminalizing personal-use drug possession, Oregon has become the first state to acknowledge that it is impossible to treat addiction as a disease and a crime simultaneously. This kind of model is urgently needed in the United States, where street fentanyl is the leading cause of death among people ages 18 to 45, and where sending people to jail for using drugs has failed to prevent the worst addiction and overdose crisis in American history.

Read on.


Unite Oregon successfully led the field campaign to pass Measure 110, the Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act. The measure, which passed by almost 60% of the vote, will redesign Oregon’s broken drug laws to make treatment more available across the state without ruining lives with arrests or jail time. Oregon will be the first state to shift its approach from punishment to public health. Our Measure 110 team organized voters across the state and especially rural communities, to make this a truly inclusive process. We received over 120 organizational endorsements; gathered over 160,000 petition signatures; organized; hosted 10 community listening sessions with local legislators; gained 320 public endorsements; reached a total of 5,751 contacts; and recruited and trained 176 volunteers to support our outreach and engagement efforts.