Drug Decriminalization Not Tied to Change in Fatal Drug Overdose Rates

Findings seen in the year following policy changes

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FRIDAY, Sept. 29, 2023 (HealthDay News) -- 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 subsequent fatal drug overdose rates, according to a study published online Sept. 27 in JAMA Psychiatry.

Spruha Joshi, Ph.D., M.P.H., from New York University in New York City, and colleagues examined whether laws that fully or partially decriminalized drug possession in Oregon and Washington were associated with fatal drug overdose rates one year postimplementation. Using a synthetic control method approach, rates were compared to those in 48 states and the District of Columbia that did not implement similar policies during the study period (Jan. 1, 2018, to March 31, 2022).

The researchers found that following the implementation of Measure 110, absolute monthly rate differences between Oregon and its synthetic control were not statistically significant (probability, 0.26). Postimplementation, the average rate difference was 0.268 fatal drug overdoses per 100,000 state population. Results were similar in Washington, with a nonsignificant difference in the absolute monthly rate differences between Washington and synthetic Washington following the Supreme Court decision in State v. Blake (probability, 0.06), with an average rate difference postimplementation of 0.112 fatal drug overdoses per 100,000 state population.

"Additional research could examine potential other outcomes as well as longer-term associations with fatal drug overdose overall and across racial and ethnic groups," the authors write.

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