Photo of Larry Turner (Fresh Out, Community Based Reentry) by Mac Smiff
WOHM sat down with service providers from the Oregon Black Brown Indigenous Advocacy Coalition to discuss the law’s impact so far.
Oregon’s historic Drug Decriminalization and Addiction Treatment Initiative (Measure 110) is in its early days of implementation. In the last month, it has come under fire after the Oregon Health Authority got audited and it was revealed the Authority was not properly prepared to track the law’s impact. The law, seen as an historic step toward unwinding the racist War on Drugs, is also facing a direct attack by Oregon legislators seeking to take money (up to $60 million per year) away from the state’s burgeoning decriminalization system and give that money to the Oregon State Police and local governments that have historically and systematically failed to equitably provide recovery services to populations most impacted by the War on Drugs.
To better understand the situation, WOHM sat down with members of the Oregon Black Brown Indigenous Advocacy Coalition (OBBIAC), consisting of groups that provide “culturally specific” recovery services for people historically neglected by the conventional (white-run) system.
OBBIAC members have been tracking Measure 110’s implementation themselves after warning OHA in 2021 that it needed to get its act together to better track the law’s impact.
“We needed to track our own impact, because we knew that all eyes were going to be on us,” says Larry Turner of Fresh Out Community Based Reentry, a Northeast Portland-based program that specializes in helping formerly incarcerated African American people transition back into society. “As soon as Black and Brown people get any money, we know from experience that people quickly start to scrutinize — even when we don’t see any accountability from the institutions that have continued to fail our communities and which actually got us in the public health crisis we are in today.” (Oregon is one of the worst states for accessing addiction recovery treatment.)
Understanding Measure 110
After Oregon voters approved Measure 110 with 58% of the vote in 2020, Rolling Stone announced that, “By making dependency on hard drugs a public health issue — instead of a criminal one — Oregon could help end the war on drugs.”
The law is path breaking in a few ways. It decriminalizes small amounts of all drugs by reclassifying small possession of any drug from a Class A criminal misdemeanor to a Class E violation (like a parking ticket). These violations can be resolved by paying a $100 fine or by completing a health assessment. As a result, the law has successfully slashed low-level drug arrests in the state.
Critically, Measure 110 also funds addiction and supportive services. The money is housed in a “Drug Treatment and Recovery Services Fund” that gets funds from what the law saves the state by reducing arrests, incarceration, and official supervision and from the Oregon Marijuana Account (cash the state gets from the legalized marijuana industry).
In an attempt to begin to address the racist legacy of the War on Drugs, the measure makes a priority to fund organizations that offer “culturally responsive” services, including for Black, Brown and Indigenous communities.
“This is the first time we are seeing funds earmarked for Black, Brown, Indigenous communities,” Jose Luis Garcia, Executive Director of Juntos told WOHM. Juntos is a Measure 110 grantee based in Multnomah County. “Our communities are always expelled from services because providers don’t understand their culture or values, or don’t speak their language,” he said. “We have been advocating for culturally specific services for decades, and this is the first time we are seeing it.”
Where money is going
Despite delays in implementing the law and OHA still getting up to speed, 60,000 people have been served by dozens of providers that have received grants, as of September 2022, according to the OHA.
Painted Horse Recovery
“We serve our community best because we are our community,” Jerrod Murray, Executive Director of Painted Horse Recovery, a culturally specific recovery center for Native Americans told WOHM. “With this money, we see that our approaches work for our people. We are now better equipped to have our community connect to culture through beading, regalia making, drum making and a safe community space. These things are helping people stay clean.”
“Out of 100 Native Americans who have engaged with the center so far, only two have gone back to jail and these were not new charges, these were old charges,” he says. “So no new arrests. One in three have gotten new housing or improved their housing — and most importantly, a third have also re-connected with their kids.”
With Measure 110 funds, Painted Horse has been able to provide drum making kits, beads and hides for Natives getting out of prison and treatment. “Our solution is in our culture,” Murray says. At “Painted Horse you can make your own dance outfit, then use it. And when you go dancing, that connects you to your spirit and culture. Our clients are not going to jail because they are sitting at a drum, they are not going to jail because they are at a sweat, they are not going to jail because they are sewing, because they are re-connecting to their spirit and traditions.”
“We, the measure 110 grantees, are picking up the pieces of a broken behavioral health system,” Luis Garcia of Juntos said in testimony against the bill (HB 2089) that would take funds away from Measure 110 programs. “Yes the funds were late, but we got to work right away. In the last 60 days, my organization Juntos, which consists of two coordinators, has assisted over 100 black, brown and indigenous individuals with their recovery goals. We have connected folks to peer services, treatment, shelters, transitional housing, clean and sober housing, and eviction prevention services. We have gotten people and families off the street. We also provided rental assistance, employment navigation, education, training and basic needs. These basic needs are things like hygiene products, groceries, clothing, shoes, emergency transportation, medication, access to overdose prevention medicine, and cell phones to stay connected to their treatment groups and programs as many are now virtual. All possible because of Measure 110 funds, and this was just the first 60 days.”
Fresh Out Community Based Reentry
Fresh Out Community Based Reentry has used Measure 110 funds to provide services to over 650 individuals and families so far. “Out of all the people we have served thanks to these funds, only two have gone back to jail,” Larry Turner told WOHM. “From the first 202 people we served, 57 are now in stable housing, 27 went to treatment and others received employment support, peer mentoring, harm reduction services and food insecurity assistance, all as a result of Measure 110 funds.”
“This measure has already impacted the community greatly, and I can imagine what kind of impact it would have after 20 years of this kind of funding,” he said. “We have to keep this momentum.”
Miracles Club was “created for the Black recovering community, because we have not been made to feel welcome in white recovery clubs,” Executive Director Julia Mines told WOHM. After getting “bread crumbs” from Multnomah County for decades, the Club has used Measure 110 funds to hire mentors and pay them a living wage with good benefits. The Club now hosts over 48 self-help meetings per week. “We’re thriving now,” says Mines. Qualifying clients can now access hygiene products, contingency management services, a freezer of food, get help with rent and phone payments, clothes and transitional housing. “If they are in need of some gas? We have that available now,” she says. “We have eight beds of transitional housing for men and nine beds for women thanks to Measure 110. And we’re about to launch a 10 bed house catered to the African American LGBTQ+ community.”
For those quick to prematurely criticize Measure 110, Mines offers the perspective of time. “It took time for the War on Drugs to tear our communities apart, and it’s going to take time for us to rebuild our communities,” she says.
In 2022, Miracles Club made contact with 6,669 houseless people, conducted 239 unique intakes, facilitated 1,732 peer to peer recovery counseling encounters, completed residential treatments with 83 people and outpatient treatments for another 78. Seventeen clients completed mental health treatment and 68 completed probation or parole. Some 261 clients started exercising, 120 got a driver’s license, 238 improved their education, 274 improved their employment, and 28 were issued desktop computers in partnership with Free Geek. Another nine got Chromebooks and participated in digital literacy classes.
Going Home II
With Measure 110 funds, Going Home II has been able to open up a Recovery Resource Center geared to the African American community near Lloyd Center. “The ball is rolling, we’re open, and we’re getting more clients by the day,” Michael Fesser, Executive Director of Going Home II told WOHM. “We’ve been able to help quite a few individuals with Measure 110 funds since we recently opened the doors to the Recovery Resource Center. We’re going into the community and building relationships.” With Measure 110 funds, the organization was also able to hire new staff and expand their program to include recovery services for drug addiction that includes peer support, housing and employment services. The organization began in 2014 with a prison re-entry program and has since added a violence prevention/community safety program and now with Measure 110 funds have added a behavioral health/social wellness program. We take a “holistic approach to serving our community, we know violence, we are from this community, we understand the social determinants of health and trauma — we integrate substance use, trauma, mental health and behavioral therapy, all in a way that is relevant to the African American experience in Oregon. We’re seeing amazing interest,” Fesser told WOHM. “We are empowering people to walk beside us.”
SoValTi is a “culturally responsive social services agency committed to serving African American and biracial individuals in the Portland Metropolitan area.” The organization offers a host of supportive services, including life skills groups, where people come together to support one another and make plans to “subsist and survive in the daunting society we live in,” Tim Logan, Agency Administrator told WOHM. “With this money we have been able to build a network of support service organizations that can effectively serve our community.”
Thanks to Measure 110, the organization has been able to hire new staff as they work to help “African American individuals, men, women and children” overcome challenges around issues like domestic violence and addiction issues, said Logan. “We have been fighting the conventional cookie-cutter approach to how people receive treatment for years,” Logan said.
Under attack and premature scrutiny
The bill introduced to slow Measure 110’s progress and reduce funding for the growing ecosystem of service providers would funnel money to the Oregon State Police and local (white-controlled) governments.
Articles popping up suggest funds should go back to local governments (and law enforcement). Op-eds and media coverage have used the OHA audit to suggest Measure 110 is off to a “rocky start” and that the public ought to “reconsider” the measure. Local governments are demanding they get more Measure 110 money.
Mark Harris, of the Behavioral Health Recovery Network in Lane County and member of the OBBIAC takes issue with what he calls local governments’ “predictable” attack on Measure 110. Harris, a professor of Addiction Studies, told WOHM that for decades he has witnessed systematic discrimination and negligence against people of color within private, public, and county-affiliated care providers.
Harris told WOHM he has seen correctly diagnosed and admitted Black clients be discharged for “non-compliance” after disclosing experiences of combined sexism and racism in Oregon. (Being discharged leaves these people untreated and more likely to resort to “self-medicating” and to re-enter the justice system.)
In publicly-funded county contractors and county programs, he says, Black clients have been exposed to repeated use of the “N-word” in anger management programs. He said he saw Eugene and Lane County get money from the federal government to provide programs for people of color, only to see the local governments use the money simply to pay off unrelated budget deficits in conventional programs, without addressing the medical needs of people of color. (Harris says his request for racial outcome data has been met with continued official silence, and attempted intimidation and retribution.)
He also explained that he has seen programs meant to provide recovery services for repeat alcohol offenders go exclusively to white people. “They have not been held accountable historically for the way they treat people of color,” he told WOHM. “I’ve had Skinheads and Klansmen clients in public treatment, I don’t get the option of denying them medical treatment services because of their political beliefs,” he said. “But they deny our communities culturally relevant care that addresses their known stressor.”
“Measure 110 services, delivered by agencies of color, have had a much better efficacy track record than law enforcement and no treatment, or ineffective or non-existent treatment at the hands of city and county government,” he added.
Where things stand
The progress seen in the early days of Measure 110 has all happened before the disbursal of funds to bolster a more comprehensive system of care through the creation of Behavioral Health Resource Networks (BHRNs) in every county in the state. This deeper investment will work toward “guaranteeing that Oregonians will have access to a full array of wraparound addiction services,” according to Oregon’s Health Justice Recovery Alliance.
“This is just the beginning of us trying to make change,” Garcia of Juntos told WOHM.
Don’t be surprised if you see reforms like Measure 110 spreading to other states.
For more information about Oregon Black Brown Advocacy Coalition, read their purpose statement:
The Oregon Black Brown Advocacy Coalition’s shared purpose is to build the power of people and communities most negatively impacted by the failed War on Drugs and uphold and support organizations of color in those communities.
The OBBIAC is a coalition of Black, Brown, and Indigenous providers of substance use disorder/mental health services. Our purpose is to build the power of people and communities most negatively impacted by the failed “War(s)on Drugs” and to uphold and support organizations of Black, Brown, Indigenous communities. Many of us have experience as state trainers, local agency practitioners, executive directors, and writers of Oregon Administrative Rules. We’ve sat on hiring committees, state-level task forces, and coalitions. We’ve watched the evolution of this state’s prevention, harm reduction, treatment, and recovery infrastructure.
We advocate for the improvement of service provision beyond evidence-based strategies, which ignore our traditional cultural strength based lifeways. Evidence-based strategies also ignore the community defined evidence strategies that acknowledge centuries of historical trauma stemming from colonization, genocide, slavery, multigenerational trauma, and health disparities, which are also often conscious, deliberate, systemic medical neglect. When there is a course of evidence based effective treatment, for a frequently occurring health condition, and you deliberately and demonstrably (as shown in disaggregated data analysis), deny that treatment to people of color, they will show up, untreated, in correctional systems, in the unhoused, or other medically neglected populations.
In a state like Oregon, with its history of physical racial exclusion, when we’ve acted as medical professionals of color, in good faith, to do no harm, in a “color-blind” fashion, and appropriately referred white clients to a system of care; those white clients have been treated, with care, and the clients of color, referred using identical diagnostic criteria, have been untreated, or discharged early. This is not a matter of speculation, but a common, frequently reported experience.