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OpEdNews Op Eds    H1'ed 9/8/17

Oregon Drug Bill Highlights Growing Chasm Between States and White House

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Here in the United States, each state has its own list of concerns and priorities. It's clear the Trump administration could not be more out of touch with many of them. Let's take Oregon for example.

Like many states, Oregon has a drug problem and it has a problem with high incarceration rates. Recently, Oregon lawmakers passed a bill to decriminalize drugs . The bill will reduce jail time for first-time offenders caught with Schedule 1 and 2 drugs like heroin, meth, and cocaine. Possession of these drugs will no longer be a felony for first-timers. Instead, Oregon will prioritize treatment and rehabilitation.

This comes at a time when Trump's Attorney General Jeff Sessions is trying to get tough and rekindle the war on drugs that has so infamously failed to stop anyone from abusing drugs.

After senators voted to maintain medical marijuana protections--against Sessions' wishes-- Oregon's step to decriminalize drugs other than marijuana takes the rebellion to another level. "We are trying to move policy toward treatment rather than prison beds, we can't continue on the path of building more prisons when often the underlying root cause of the crime is substance abuse," said co-chair of public safety, Sen. Jackie Winters, a Republican.

If Oregon's bill does indeed help reduce drug-related crimes while it saves the state money on prisons, expect it to set a precedent that will see other states follow suit. Consider the timeline of cannabis laws . California's legalization of medical marijuana in '96 helped lead Oregon, Washington, and Alaska to do the same in '98. Then, after more than a decade, Colorado and Washington legalized recreational marijuana in 2012. Those states' success with legalization has prompted a total of 29 states to legalize marijuana--medical, recreational, or both.

In a signal of disgust with the Obama administration's failure to remove marijuana from the Schedule 1 drug list, eight states voted to legalize either recreational or medical marijuana in 2016.

States are ahead of the federal government in understanding the war on drugs is not working. This has a great deal to do with the reality of the situation on the ground. While the federal government can sit back, analyze statistics, wage a war for political reasons, and reinforce the pharmaceutical industry's stranglehold on America, states have to deal with the fall-out. Every day, real people watch real people go to prison, die, or waste their lives away on drugs. Washington, meanwhile, exists in a bubble of money and power that has nothing to do with the lives of ordinary citizens.

A look at the opioid crisis will reinforce this point:

-- 44 people die of prescription drug overdoses each day

-- 60 percent of deaths are caused by prescription opioids

-- 2 million Americans were addicted to prescription opioids in 2014

Yet Trump is not calling this a national emergency and is focusing efforts on the same old tough law enforcement, as well as policing the Mexican border--despite several states having sued pharmaceutical companies for aggressively peddling legal, synthetic forms of heroin.

Another form of synthetic heroin, fentanyl, would not exist without the war on drugs. Because the federal government has focused on burning down South American poppy fields, fentanyl labs have popped up in Mexico and China, intent on meeting the demand created by a diminishing heroin supply.

What if we decided to meet the demand ourselves by weaning users off of opioids through the use of opioid agonist therapy? This is an evidence-based form of treatment. Basically, a substance like methadone simulates the effects of heroin, but is not as addictive, and the user slowly lessens their intake until they don't need it anymore.

If a user finds their heroin source running dry, they're likely to turn to prescription opioids or fentanyl--synthetic forms of heroin more likely to kill a user than methadone. Only about 10 percent of heroin addicts get addiction treatment. As states like Oregon have discovered, the remaining 90 percent of addicts who get caught go to jail, and the problem doesn't dissipate. Increasingly, states will recognize this is an untenable state of affairs and will rebel against Trump's war on drugs.

 

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