The Oregon Health Authority announced Tuesday that it has finished awarding 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 dollars to a grant program that pays for supportive services for people with substance use disorder.
The first round of grants totaled $302 million, according to OHA.
Steve Allen, OHA’s behavioral health director, responded to criticism that the agency didn’t get the funding out the door quickly enough at a time when overdose deaths are surging.
“We understand the frustration this caused in our communities,” Allen said. “When you do something for the first time you’re going to make mistakes.”
He said the agency has learned it needs to give more support and technical assistance to the committee of volunteers tasked with deciding which grants to fund.
Allen also acknowledged that, nearly two years after Measure 110 passed, the availability of addiction treatment, including residential treatment beds and medication-assisted treatment for people with opioid use disorder, is “inconsistent” across Oregon’s counties.
Measure 110 funding is largely not being used to address those gaps in addiction treatment and professional medical services. Under direction from the state Legislature, Measure 110 dollars aren’t being 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 that aren’t Medicaid funded: outreach, peer mentors, recovery housing and needle exchanges, for example.
That’s about five times the amount the state has spent on supportive services for substance use disorder up to now, according to Tara Hurst, executive director of the Oregon Health Justice Recovery Alliance, an advocacy group working on Measure 110 implementations.
“When we talk about meeting folks where they’re at, it’s so important,” Hurst said. “They can’t get treatment, they can’t get more services and get off drugs if they’re dead.”
As an example, Hurst said, the HIV Alliance in Marion and Lane counties has used its initial Measure 110 grant to support overdose reversal, saving 500 lives.
Oregon Health Authority staff said the Legislature has made additional investments meant to shore up the state’s flagging behavioral health treatment system: $1.3 billion to transform Oregon’s behavioral health system, and $154.5 million to increase Medicaid reimbursement rates for behavioral health care providers.
“We believe that level of increase will help stabilize the system that we have, help encourage other providers to come to the table, and help provide long-term support to 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 meth use in the nation, but less access to care.