A Lot is Riding on Drug Deflection. As It Gets Going, We Have Questions. | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon

A Lot is Riding on Drug Deflection. As It Gets Going, We Have Questions.

On drug treatment, let’s hope this time we're sharing a success story

click to enlarge A Lot is Riding on Drug Deflection. 
As It Gets Going, We Have Questions.
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Over the past several years, Oregon has gotten a great deal of attention for its attempt at drug decriminalization, which was plagued by a shortage of treatment beds, no real "teeth" to push people into treatment and the surge of fentanyl that saw our state having the highest rate of increase in fentanyl overdose deaths from 2019 to 2023.

In the most recent legislative session, lawmakers worked to plug the holes in the system by creating a new deflection model that forces people arrested for illegal drugs into treatment, in order to avoid charges and possible jail time. Each county has the ability to opt in to a deflection program. Deschutes County is setting up its program now, modeling it after a longstanding deflection program in Marion County.

A lot was riding on Measure 110, that initial drug-decriminalization citizen initiative. With its failure, even more is riding on this next effort. As we reported last week, the Deschutes County Sheriff's Office will be the lead on this program, rather than the County's Behavioral Health Department, as was originally planned.

Like many Oregonians, we'd very much like to see this program succeed – to see more people reclaim their lives, free of addiction, to reduce the harms perpetrated on the communities and the loved ones of those afflicted, and of course, to reduce the disparities in the criminal justice system that see Black and Brown people incarcerated at disproportionate rates.

And even while we hope for a better outcome than the one Measure 110 offered, a few things could go haywire with deflection. Here are the questions we have:

-What role will the new sheriff in Deschutes County take on this issue?

With Sheriff Shane Nelson not seeking re-election this November, someone new is going to be sitting in his seat in the months following the rollout of this program, which begins to be fully funded in September. Throughout the campaign season, readers would do well to pay close attention to how each of the two candidates aim to approach this issue. County officials, including Commissioner Phil Chang, told us they're still unsure of how the sheriff's office plans to work with the many others who are tasked with this important work.

"I want to hear from the sheriff's office that they are committed to the integration and coordination in pursuing this," Chang told the Source Weekly last week.

-Will a "take it slow" approach at the County result in more people falling through the cracks?

Just as it was when Measure 110 went into effect, Oregonians are going to want to see results on this issue – more people treated, fewer people dying of overdoses, like yesterday, thank you very much. But government doesn't always work at a pace satisfactory to the public. With the County having just a few months before September to work out the details, and with county officials, including District Attorney Steve Gunnels, saying they're going to take a "slow approach" to the rollout, it will be interesting to see the public's reaction and the effects of that type of rollout. We're skeptical that the community will be patient.

-Will there be enough treatment beds and other supports for those who enter deflection?

This, again, was the issue with Measure 110. While more money is flowing from the legislature this time around to support both private and public treatment offerings, we won't know definitively, with hard numbers, if all this effort is bearing fruit for quite some time. This will undoubtedly make voters uneasy, so communication from the treatment community will need to be frequent and loud.

Given that the world's eyes have been on Oregon since this whole thing began in 2020, we'll all hear about it, one way or another. Let's hope this time we are sharing a success story.

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