In states with laws that decriminalize possession of potentially deadly drugs, there was no increase in overdose deaths from those substances.
Using Oregon and Washington as case studies, two states that implemented decriminalization policies for heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine in 2021, one study found no link between the laws and an increase in fatal overdoses in the first years after the policy took effect.
Researchers theorized that decriminalization laws lead to increased calls for help from people who experience or witness drug overdoses, and that they reduce drug-related incarceration — which itself is linked to fatal overdoses.
The new findings contrast with recent media reports that Oregon’s law could be responsible for the continued rise in overdose deaths, and come as policymakers scramble to find ways to stem record-high rates of drug overdoses in to stop the US.
Oregon’s decriminalization measure is commonly referred to as Measure 110, while Washington’s change was prompted by a state Supreme Court decision that ruled the drug possession law unconstitutional.
The study’s senior investigator, Dr. Corey Davis, assistant clinical professor at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, said: “These findings indicate reduced harm to people who use drugs and possibly to their communities.”
Opioid overdose deaths in the US are mainly caused by fentanyl – a synthetic drug 50 times more powerful than heroin.
Data shows that overdose deaths in the U.S. are starting to stabilize at about 9,160 per month. White House says this is a sign they are ‘overcoming’ the crisis
In states with laws that decriminalize possession of potentially deadly drugs, there was no increase in overdose deaths from those substances, the study found
Mild fentanyl is sparking a new epidemic in the U.S. as fentanyl deaths and overdoses increase due to the flood of the illicit drug across the southern border. Fentanyl-related deaths in the US rose from 19,413 in 2016 to a record 72,484 deaths 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 with similar overdose rates as Oregon and 18 states with similar overdose rates as Washington before decriminalization.
They found no difference in overdose death rates between Oregon, Washington and the control group after decriminalization.
Even after seven months of additional preliminary data were added, the findings did not change.
While the study found no evidence to support an increase in drug overdose deaths, it also found no evidence of increased calls for help by those who have experienced or witnessed a drug overdose, nor of a decrease in the number of prison sentences.
This may be because the policy had only been in place for a year, meaning it was too early to see any change.
However, another study The same researchers found that decriminalization in Oregon and Washington dramatically reduced arrests for drug possession and did not lead to more arrests for violent crimes.
In Oregon, there were three fewer drug possession arrests per 100,000 people in the month after the policy change, and in Washington, there were nearly five fewer drug possession arrests per 100,000 people in the month after the policy change, with the numbers remaining stable thereafter. .
Both declines were significantly larger than in comparison states, the study found. There were no significant changes in the number of arrests, non-drug arrests, or arrests for violent crimes in either state, compared with controls.
The second study used different conditions for the control group, which could explain the differences in the results.
Spruha Joshi, assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan and co-lead author of the studies, said continued monitoring is needed.
“In addition to reducing penalties for drug possession, Measure 110 in Oregon has diverted hundreds of millions of dollars in cannabis revenue to expanding access to programs aimed at reducing the risk of overdoses,” she said.
‘However, these funds were not distributed until after our research period. It will be important to continue monitoring overdose rates as more data becomes available to assess the impact of distributing these funds,” added Dr. Joshi added.
The research was published in the journal on Wednesday JAMA Psychiatry.