“Treatment for addiction is the least expensive and most effective form of crime prevention.” MHAP founding document, 2003.
While drug use continues to drop nationally, 72 percent of men arrested in Portland in 2011 used one or more illegal drugs, with nearly a quarter testing positive for methamphetamine, a federal study released Thursday concludes.
Only Sacramento with 43 percent of men arrested scored higher than Portland for the presence of meth, according to the study by the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
Overall, Portland placed in the upper half of the 10 major cities surveyed for the annual project. The study is based on samples taken within the first 48 hours of detention for crimes ranging from misdemeanors to felonies.
In all, tests were run on 1,050 men within 48 hours of their arrest by metro Portland law enforcement. Half tested positive for marijuana while 32.9 percent tested positive for “multiple drugs.” The presence of meth was next at 23.2 percent, which was the nation’s second-highest rate. Other drugs found in the systems of those arrested included, in order, opiates, cocaine and oxycodone.
Gil Kerlikowske, a former Seattle police chief and current ONDCP director, more commonly known as the drug czar, said the data reinforce well-understood connections between crime and drug use.
But he also told reporters the report meshes with his approach, which includes active law enforcement with strong and long-term treatment opportunities for addicts and wider use of new tools that include drug courts.
“It makes sense to support programs that treat substance abuse disorders before they become chronic rather than filling prisons with drug offenders over and over again,” Kerlikowske said.
“The criminal justice system will always play an important role in our efforts but we cannot arrest our way out of our nation’s drug problem. We have to treat it,” he said.
Kerlikowske said he could not offer an absolute explanation for the high incidence of meth use among men arrested in Portland.
Meth is a bigger problem in the West than in other parts of the country he said and it’s been especially pronounced in Oregon. But while Portland’s number is high, Kerlikowske compared it to Sacramento and the differing approaches to the problem in California, Oregon and Washington state.
“Portland has always been and continues to be much lower than Sacramento.
There isn’t a huge amount of distance but one of the things cites is, in Oregon they made pseudoephedrine a prescription-only and California is across the counter,” he said, referring to the controversial law put into place in Oregon to fight meth.
“In Washington, which is only a bridge away from Portland, you can still buy pseudoephedrine across the counter without a prescription. And the people being arrested in Portland and Multnomah County have pretty easy access to pseudoephedrine in the state of Washington.
“It’s probably a bit of speculation, but having spent nine years in the Pacific Northwest and staying in touch with those people that’s one strong reason,” he said.
In addition to Portland and Sacramento, the study included data from Atlanta, Charlotte, Chicago, Denver, Indianapolis, Minneapolis, New York and Washington, D.C.
Among the study’s findings:
- Drug use among men who are arrested “is much higher than in the general U.S. population.” At least 60 percent of those arrested in all 10 cities used drugs with five cities reporting more than 70 percent;
- The presence of cocaine continues to drop since 2007, which New York and Chicago dropping from 50 percent in 2000 to 25 percent in 2011;
- Marijuana was the most commonly detected drug (36 percent in Atlanta to 56 percent in Sacrament) while cocaine was the second-most common.
- The percent of those testing positive for multiple drugs ranged from 13 percent in Charlotte to 38 percent in Sacramento.