In states with laws decriminalizing possession of potentially lethal drugs, there was no increase in overdose deaths from those substances.
Using Oregon and Washington as case studies, two states that implemented heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine decriminalization policies in 2021, a study found no link between the laws and an increase in fatal drug overdoses in the first years after The policies came into effect.
Researchers theorized that decriminalization laws lead to more calls for help from people experiencing or witnessing a drug overdose and reduce drug-related incarceration, which in turn is associated with fatal overdoses.
The new findings contrast with recent media reports that Oregon’s law may be responsible for the continued rise in overdose deaths and come as policymakers scramble to find ways to curb record rates. of drug overdoses in the US
Oregon’s decriminalization measure is commonly known as Measure 110, while Washington’s change was prompted by a state Supreme Court decision that ruled the state’s drug possession law was unconstitutional.
The study’s principal investigator, Dr. Corey Davis, a clinical assistant professor at New York University Grossman School of Medicine, said: “These findings indicate a reduction in harm to people who use drugs and possibly to their communities as well. “.
Opioid overdose deaths in the United States in particular are primarily due to fentanyl, a synthetic drug 50 times more potent than heroin.
Overdose deaths in the United States have begun to level off, data suggests, at about 9,160 per month. The White House says this is a sign that they are ‘defeating’ the crisis
In states with laws decriminalizing possession of potentially lethal drugs, there was no increase in overdose deaths from those substances, the study found.
Tranquilized fentanyl is causing a new epidemic in the United States, as fentanyl deaths and overdoses are increasing due to the illicit drug flooding the southern border. Deaths caused by fentanyl in the US increased from 19,413 in 2016 to a record 72,484 deaths recorded in 2021.
The researchers analyzed death certificates from Oregon and Washington a year after decriminalization.
They then compared the data to a control group consisting of 13 states that had overdose rates similar to Oregon’s and 18 states with overdose rates similar to Washington’s before decriminalization.
They found no difference in overdose death rates between Oregon, Washington, and the control group after decriminalization.
Even after adding seven additional months of interim data, the findings did not change.
While the research found no evidence to support an increase in drug overdose deaths, it also found no evidence of more calls for help by those who experienced or witnessed a drug overdose, nor of reduced incarceration rates.
This could be because the policies had only been in place for a year, meaning it was too early to see any changes.
However, another study The same researchers found that decriminalization in Oregon and Washington dramatically reduced arrests for drug possession and did not lead to an increase in arrests for violent crimes.
In Oregon, there were three fewer arrests for drug possession per 100,000 people in the month after the policy change and in Washington, there were almost five fewer arrests for drug possession per 100,000 people in the month after the policy change, and the rate remained stable after that. .
Both declines were significantly greater than in comparison states, the study found. There were no significant changes in overall arrests, non-drug arrests, or violent crime arrests in any of the states, relative to controls.
The second study used different states for the control group, which may explain the differences in results.
Spruha Joshi, assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan and co-senior author of the studies, said continued monitoring is needed.
“In addition to reducing penalties for drug possession, Measure 110 in Oregon directed hundreds of millions of dollars in cannabis revenue to increase access to programs aimed at reducing the risk of overdose,” he said.
‘However, these funds were not distributed until after our study period. It will be important to continue to monitor overdose rates as more data becomes available to evaluate the impact of the distribution of these funds,” added Dr. Joshi.
The study was published Wednesday in the journal. JAMA Psychiatry.