Decriminalisation has no effect on drug overdoses, says new study

Liz Filmer
01 Oct 2023

Removing criminal charges for drug possession has no major impact on the number of fatal overdoses. This is per a new study published by the American Medical Association that analysed the effects of decriminalisation in Oregon and Washington State.

"Our analysis suggests that state decriminalisation policies do not lead to increases in overdose deaths," said Corey Davis, senior investigator for the new report.

The findings, published in the most recent edition of the journal JAMA Psychiatry, come from another recent study that found that decriminalisation in both states had reduced arrests for drug possession whilst not leading to a rise in arrests for violent crimes.

Researchers looked at a year's worth of post-decriminalisation data on overdose deaths from the two states. They compared them to control groups of states that had similar overdose rates. It was found that fatal overdose rates in Oregon and Washington were approximately the same as what would have been anticipated without the policy modification.

Off the back of this new report, it has been acknowledged that there is a need for more study on the long-term effects of decriminalisation and how reduced penalties may impact different racial and ethnic groups.

"This study is an important first look at the impact of drug decriminalisation on overdose, but continued monitoring is needed," Spruha Joshi- co-lead author of the study.

In Oregon, the state's decriminalisation law also saw a drastic increase in treatment and recovery services funding. However, this money was not released until after the study had concluded.

"Funded programming has the potential to decrease risky drug-related behaviours and support pathways to addiction recovery, which can reduce nonfatal and fatal drug overdose," researchers wrote.

According to recent data (2021) from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Washington and Oregon had the country's 33rd and 34th highest fatal overdose rates, respectively,

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Liz Filmer