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Oregon to recriminalise drugs after ‘dystopian nightmare’ of fentanyl addiction

Lawmakers said Oregon had become a 'drug tourism state'
Lawmakers said Oregon had become a 'drug tourism state' with people travelling there to use on the street - James Breeden/Breeden Media LLC

The US state of Oregon has voted to reverse the decriminalisation of drug possession, after experimental measures fuelled a “dystopian nightmare” of fentanyl addiction on the streets.

State lawmakers voted to criminalise the possession of small amounts of heroin and methamphetamine, allowing police to take action against drug users in public parks and on the streets.

The $211m (£167m) bill will effectively end Oregon’s three-year experiment with drug decriminalisation, which began with a referendum on penalties for illicit drugs in 2020.

The earlier law, known as Measure 110, decriminalised the possession of small amounts of cocaine, heroin, LSD and methamphetamine.

However, it has become increasingly controversial in the state after the rate of drug overdoses soared and street heroin became contaminated with fentanyl, a stronger opiate.

Figures from the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show the rate of fentanyl overdoses in Oregon rose more than 1,500 per cent between 2019 and 2023, the sharpest increase in the country.

In January, the state governor Tina Kotek declared a 90-day state of emergency for fentanyl in Portland, Oregon’s largest city, warning that “our country and our state have never seen a drug this deadly and addictive”.

Republican lawmakers said Oregon had become a “drug tourism state”, with addicts travelling from other areas of the US to use drugs openly on the streets, while Christopher Parosa, the district attorney in the city of Eugene, said he was witnessing “a dystopian nightmare that is akin to a grim Hollywood movie”.

The latest bill makes it a criminal offence to carry small quantities of hard drugs, and creates a multimillion dollar fund for court programmes and mental health and addiction services.

Kate Lieber, the Democratic Senate majority leader, said: “With this bill, we are doubling down on our commitment to make sure Oregonians have access to the treatment and care that they need.”

Tim Knopp, the Republican leader in the Senate, said the bill “will put Oregon on a path to recovery and signifies an end to the nationwide decriminalisation movement”.

The bill now passes to Ms Kotek to sign it into law. She has indicated she would support measures to reverse decriminalisation.