Oregon’s first round of Measure 110 funding is finally out

The Oregon Health Authority announced Tuesday that it has finished providing the first two years of funding to nonprofits under Measure 110, the state’s drug decriminalization measure.

The measure, which voters approved in November 2020, diverted cannabis tax money to a grant program that pays for support services for people with substance use disorders.

The first round of grants totaled $302 million, according to the OHA.

Steve Allen, the OHA’s director of behavioral health, responded to criticism that the agency didn’t get the funding fast enough at a time when overdose deaths were on the rise.

“We understand the frustration this has caused in our communities,” Allen said. “When you do something for the first time, you are going to make mistakes.”

Related: Oregon’s pioneering drug law raises more questions than answers in first few months

He said the agency has learned that it needs to provide more support and technical assistance to the committee of volunteers responsible for deciding which grants to fund.

Allen also acknowledged that, nearly two years after Measure 110 was passed, the availability of drug treatment, including residential treatment beds and drug treatment for people with substance use disorders opioids, is “inconsistent” across Oregon counties.

Measure 110 funding is largely not used to address these gaps in addiction treatment and professional medical services. Under the direction of the state legislature, Measure 110 dollars are not used to pay for treatment services that are also covered by commercial health insurance or the Oregon Health Plan.

The $302 million will pay for other services not funded by Medicaid: outreach, peer mentors, recovery housing and needle exchanges, for example.

That’s about five times the amount the state has spent so far on support services for substance use disorders, according to Tara Hurst, executive director of the Oregon Health Justice Recovery Alliance, a group of defense working on the implementation of measure 110.

“When we talk about meeting people where they are, that’s so important,” Hurst said. “They can’t get treatment, they can’t get more services and get off drugs if they’re dead.”

Related: Does Oregon Measure 110 work? A lawyer says yes and asks for patience

As an example, Hurst said, the Marion and Lane Counties HIV Alliance used its initial Measure 110 grant to support overdose reversal, saving 500 lives.

Oregon Health Authority staff said the legislature has made additional investments intended to strengthen the state’s behavioral health treatment system: $1.3 billion to transform the state’s behavioral health system Oregon and $154.5 million to increase Medicaid reimbursement rates for behavioral health care providers.

“We believe the level of increase will help stabilize the system we have, encourage other suppliers to come to the table and provide long-term support for workers,” Allen said.

According to national data, Oregon has a higher prevalence of behavioral health problems than most other states, including the highest rate of methamphetamine use in the nation, but less access to care.

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