Sean Hannity criticizing Oregon's drug decriminalization

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Conservative media misleadingly blame drug decriminalization in Oregon for a rise in opioid overdose deaths

Conservative media have been misleading audiences about overdose statistics in Oregon to blame Measure 110 — a law that decriminalized drug use in early 2021 — for an increase in deaths since 2019 or even 2018, years before it took effect. This misinformation comes amid a push to dismantle Oregon's drug decriminalization efforts.

However, a peer-reviewed study found no connection between Measure 110 and the increase in opioid deaths. Nationally available data show that deaths in Oregon from opioid overdose were below the national average and were similar or below that of several neighboring states, and the conservative media claims disregard that the much more lethal opioid fentanyl began saturating in Oregon just before Measure 110 passed and took effect.

  • A study found no connection between Measure 110 and increased overdose deaths, and Oregon’s opioid overdose rates are not exceptionally high

    • Measure 110, also known as the Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act, was a ballot initiative passed in 2020 to create “a health-based approach to addiction and overdose” in place of existing criminal penalties. The law took effect on February 1, 2021. [Oregon Health Authority, accessed 2/13/24]
    • A study published in JAMA Psychiatry concluded there is “no evidence of an association between legal changes that removed or substantially reduced criminal penalties for drug possession in Oregon and Washington and fatal drug overdose rates.” The study examined drug overdose death rates in the year following the implementation of Oregon’s Measure 110. [JAMA Psychiatry, 9/27/23]
    • National data presented by Kaiser Family Foundation on opioid overdose death rates show Oregon below the national average, and similar or below the rate of several of its neighbors. According to the most recent nationwide data available (2021), Oregon’s opioid overdose death rate stood at 18.1 per 100,000, below the national average of 24.7. It was also below its neighbors Washington (20.5) and Nevada (18.9), and only slightly higher than California (17.8). [Kaiser Family Foundation, accessed 2/12/24]
    • Oregon data shows that opioid deaths were drastically rising before Measure 110 passed and took effect. A January 22 Oregon Health Authority update on opioid overdoses showed that unintentional opioid overdose deaths totaled 280 in 2019, and increased nearly 70% to 472 in 2020, before Measure 110 took effect in early 2021. According to this data from the Oregon Health Authority, the upward trend in opioid overdose deaths slowed over the next 2 years, with a 56% increase in 2021 and then a 30% increase in 2022. [Oregon Health Authority, 1/22/24]
  • Experts suggest that the saturation of fentanyl in Oregon just before Measure 110 passed is instead the cause of the increase in overdose deaths

    • Addiction reporter Maia Szalavitz cited drug epidemiologist Alex Kral’s alternative explanation for the increase in opioid deaths: It coincided with the period when fentanyl began to dominate in Oregon. According to Szalavitz’s New York Times opinion piece on the issue and RTI International epidemiologist Kral, the nationwide surge in opioid overdose deaths from fentanyl reached Oregon just a year or so before Measure 110 went into effect. She explained: “[Fentanyl] didn’t overrun Western state markets until 2019 and later, and Measure 110 did not go into effect until February 2021. ” Szalavitz continued: “Consequently, it’s spurious to link decriminalization to an overdose rate that has risen in parallel with fentanyl prevalence in every community studied that was penetrated by the drug, regardless of policy changes.” [The New York Times, 2/5/24]
    • A July 2022 article published in the Harm Reduction Journal explained that fentanyl “has more recently reached the Western USA” and “has contributed to a drastic increase in overdose drug deaths.” The article is titled: “‘It wasn’t here, and now it is. It’s everywhere’: fentanyl’s rising presence in Oregon’s drug supply.” [Harm Reduction Journal, 7/11/22]
  • Conservative media compared overdose deaths from two to three years prior to Measure 110’s enactment to inaccurately blame the increase on the law

    • Fox News contributor Sara Carter presented misleading statistics by highlighting an increase in fentanyl deaths from one Oregon county since 2018, three years before Measure 110 went into effect, as a comparison to demonstrate the law’s effects. On Hannity, after host Sean Hannity opened the segment by mentioning the passage of Measure 110 in 2020, Carter said: “Just to put this into perspective for you, in Multnomah County, this is where Portland is located, fentanyl deaths have increased 533 percent since 2018, and that's going up to 2022. They say when the 2023 numbers come in, it's going to far exceed the 533 percent increase.” [Fox News, Hannity, 2/5/24]
    • Fox anchor Bill Hemmer misleadingly cited a 2020 “jump” in Oregon overdose deaths to attack Measure 110, which didn’t take effect until 2021. Hemmer, pointing to a bar chart showing overdose deaths in Oregon since 2018, said: “Now here are the ODs. The overdose deaths in Oregon: see 2020, see how it jumps to 800? 2021, it goes even higher. And as of 2022, the last numbers we really have that are solid, almost 1,400 overdose deaths.” [Fox News, America’s Newsroom, 2/5/24]
    • A Wall Street Journal editorial misleadingly compared opioid overdose deaths from two years before Measure 110 went into effect. A column from The Wall Street Journal's editorial board highlighted that, “In 2019, 280 people died of an opioid overdose in Oregon, according to the state’s health authority. By 2022 that number rose to 956.” The editorial claimed that the decriminalization of drug use had a “cost in lives lost and public disorder.” [The Wall Street Journal, 1/29/24]
    • A Fox graphic misleadingly presented a much larger increase in Oregon opioid deaths by using 2019 as a starting point, two years before Measure 110 went into effect. Measure 110 was voted on in November 2020 and took effect in February 2021. Yet Fox’s America’s Newsroom aired a misleading graphic portraying the 280 deaths in 2019 as taking place “1 year before Measure 110” and the 955 deaths in 2022 as “1 year into measure 110,” instead of starting with the 472 deaths in 2020 prior to the law taking effect. [Fox News Digital, 11/20/23]