BY RABBI DEBRA KOLODNY
Pirke Avot Chapter 2:16 teaches us that (Rabbi Tarfon) used to say… It is not up to you to finish the task, but neither are you free to desist from it.” As a rabbi, I often ask myself how every challenge in our society can be addressed and what is my role in ensuring forward momentum on that issue.
That inquiry leads me to support Measure 110, a ballot measure we’ll be voting on in November.
Measure 110 would shift Oregon to a health-based approach to drugs and addiction. Instead of arresting and punishing people for drug possession, we’d expand access to drug addiction treatment and recovery services, paying for it with existing taxes on marijuana.
Oregon really needs this right now. Our state ranks nearly last in access to drug addiction treatment, and nearly two people die of overdoses every day.
Instead of expanding treatment and recovery services, we continue to punish people for being addicted to drugs, arresting more than 8,900 people a year in cases where simple drug possession is the most serious offense. That’s the equivalent of one arrest every hour.
Nothing is gained by shaming, blaming and punishing people because they are addicted to drugs. Shame leads people to despair and disconnection, which makes recovery even harder. While Oregonians use drugs at the same rate regardless of race, Black, Indigenous, Latinx and LGBTQ communities are disproportionately harmed by current drug policies. Over-policing marginalized communities is cruel, expensive and ineffective. It’s time for us to stop.
Our current system creates tremendous harm and unnecessary suffering. Measure 110 takes our state’s current ineffective and cruel approach to drugs and replaces it with evidence-based solutions. It connects people who are deeply suffering with the care they need to get well. It will save lives.
If our goal is to reduce overdoses and addiction, we should have a response that’s rooted in compassion and in what the science says works. Addiction is a health issue, not an ethical lapse or character weakness for which we should punish and stigmatize people. Addiction deserves a compassionate, health-based response.
Measure 110 would specifically invest in expanding access to treatment services that are culturally responsive, trauma-informed and patient-centered. It would expand access to peer support and recovery services to assist people in remaining clean and sober. Housing, both stabilized and transitional, for persons with substance use disorder would also be funded through the measure. This is essential, because it’s nearly impossible for someone to recover if they don’t have a safe place to lay their head at night.
Overdose prevention and harm reduction are also funded. As is evident, this measure addresses addiction holistically to help people recover and heal. Measure 110 will also have a transformative effect on communities. Just as addiction creates heartbreak far beyond a person’s firsthand suffering, the gifts of recovery extend far beyond that individual. By helping the individual recover, Measure 110 can heal relationships, families and entire communities.
In Judaism, there is a concept of “ma’asim tovim” or good works. We are expected to perform good works without seeking reward or recognition. In fact, in general, Judaism has a huge emphasis on deeds, taking real action in the world, not on positive thoughts or wishful thinking. Voting yes on Measure 110 is a good deed in and of itself, something we can do to extend kindness, empathy and care.
Science tells me that the evidence-based approach offered through Measure 110 will be effective in helping many. My heart tells me that working to pass Measure 110 is a great opportunity to put my faith into action, to perform a good deed with enormous implications for the highest good for all. I urge you to join me in voting yes on Measure 110.
Rabbi Debra Kolodny serves as the spiritual leader of Portland’s UnShul and as executive director of Portland United Against Hate, a coalition of more than 80 community organizations, neighborhood groups, agencies and local governments working together to support those targeted by hate.