As reported in Tuesday's Oregonian ("Violent crime drops 10.6% in Oregon"), the latest statistics released by the FBI indicate that local crime rates are going down both for violent crimes and property crimes. That's welcome news, especially during a recession, when many people would expect the opposite.
But there is even better news for Oregonians: Violent crime in Oregon took our nation's biggest drop, and a decrease in meth production may be the key. Of course, meth is not the only reason, but it does play an important role.
This good news is confirmed in other data recently released by the federal and state governments, including drug arrests and meth lab incidents. But not all drug arrests are down in Oregon. Just meth.
This is not to say we have defeated meth. Not even close. Even with our positive trends, meth remains by far the No. 1 illicit drug abuse problem in Oregon. But what makes Oregon different from the rest of the nation is that we are on the decline. Other states, including and especially California, are going in exactly the opposite direction. Meth labs are back with a vengeance, everywhere except Oregon.
So what makes us different? What did we finally get right? That is what many folks in Washington, D.C., and other states are asking, and why my phone and e-mail have been buzzing nonstop this past week.
What Oregon has done is pioneer a path away from traditional "war on drugs" policies based on fear and shifted instead to drug policies based on science.
Three things distinguish Oregon.
First, we utilized an extensive public information and community policing campaign. Not based on fear. Just the facts. As a result, Oregonians are more aware of the ugly truth about meth.
Second, we shifted resources to treatment strategies that actually work. The truth is that treatment works for meth addiction just as well as any other form of addiction, if we use the correct treatment and recovery support. Oregon's drug courts are a perfect example.
Finally, we were the first -- and remain -- the only state to effectively control pseudoephedrine, found in some cold and allergy medicines and the key ingredient necessary to make meth. Unlike most other drugs of addiction, meth supply and meth labs can be controlled, as extensively documented by The Oregonian in its "Unnecessary Epidemic" series published in 2004. With the leadership of a bipartisan caucus in Salem, we returned pseudoephedrine to its status as a prescription drug, as it was before 1976 and before the grand scale meth epidemic that ravaged Oregon from the late 1980s through 2007.
We also worked directly with our counterparts in Mexico, who followed Oregon's lead and then completely banned pseudoephedrine. Five other nations have recently done the same. This has put intense pressure on other states, where meth labs and meth arrests are rising.
Many other states are now pursuing legislation based on the Oregon model. U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., also has drafted legislation to make the successful Oregon model a national policy. But there is a tough road ahead.
The pharmaceutical industry is making millions of dollars each year from diverted pseudoephedrine used to make meth. Blood money.
The payoff in our shifting to science-based drug policies can be measured in lives and families saved. After meeting this spring with our nation's new "drug czar," former Seattle police chief Gil Kerlikowske, I am optimistic that our nation may be following Oregon's lead.
Yes, we have made much progress. But we have a lot of work ahead. The five-year efforts of the Oregon Meth Task Force have just come to a close. We now have a new comprehensive statewide Alcohol and Drug Policy Commission, something we have needed for a long time. The new commission has a big challenge, but at least its starting point is a downward trend line, reduced crime, and effective policies based on science, rather than fear and money.
By George Rede
September 19, 2009