abuse is a growing problem that threatens Portland’s
Portlanders share the perception that substance abuse
is becoming a growing problem in our community. Community
members express concern for their personal safety, the
safety of their families and the safety, livability
and desirability of the city’s neighborhoods. They also
express concern for the community’s children, who are
exposed to frequent and visible drug use in a variety
of public settings.
When discussing substance abuse, Portlanders focus
primarily on highly addictive substances, such as “hard”
drugs, cigarettes and alcohol, while generally making
exceptions for marijuana. They also link substance abuse
to homelessness, expressing the belief that many “street
people” abuse drugs and alcohol, contributing to unsafe
and unsightly streets downtown. Some Portlanders praise
the success and effectiveness of existing recovery programs,
while many call for even more services to help people
overcome addiction and re-integrate into society. Others,
however, oppose addiction services, preferring strict
enforcement of the law and prison sentences for those
who use and abuse illegal substances.
section contains content and themes that overlap significantly
with those discussed in the following sections: Social
Issues: Homelessness, Urban
Livability: City Appearance, and Public
abuse is a growing problem that threatens Portland’s
drug use among youth threatens the future of all of
- We should limit the use
of legal addictive substances such as cigarettes and
- Portland offers many effective
recovery and rehabilitation programs.
- What is the appropriate
community response to substance abuse?
abuse is a growing problem that threatens
- Many Portlanders express concern over what
they perceive as increased levels of drug
use in the community.
- Respondents mention witnessing increased
drug use and drug dealing activity in the
- In parks, both downtown and in neighborhoods;
- On the MAX and at MAX and bus stops;
- Along West Burnside between 2nd and
5th and in Chinatown; and
- Along the Waterfront downtown.
- Portlanders are very worried about the use
and abuse of “hard” drugs such as methamphetamine
(“meth”), heroine, cocaine and crack cocaine.
The use of these drugs is linked to:
- Increased levels of theft and crime
- Increased levels of homelessness;
- The perpetuation of cycles of abuse
and neglect within families;
- The deterioration of cleanliness, safety
and livability downtown, especially along
Burnside, in Pioneer Courthouse Square
and in downtown parks; and
- Decreased property values and livability
in highly affected neighborhoods, such
as outer Southeast Portland, Rockwood
and some East Portland neighborhoods.
- Many people believe that the homeless and
“street people” downtown are also drug users
and/or drug addicts and that the money they
ask for fuels their drug use (see Social
- Portlanders agree on a vision of the future
in which drug use and abuse is drastically
abuse is rampant in Portland. I do not
believe the addicts add to Portland’s
also noticed more of a drug problem
lately. I moved away to the east coast
for a year and just came back this spring
and saw this change that was discouraging
and I hope to see it taken care of.”
would like to see less meth-induced crime
and devaluation of property values in
SE Portland, and a plan to clean up outer
SE; perhaps with neighborhood centers
and artistic outreach programs for youth
in those neighborhoods.”
like to see this city without so many
‘tweakers.’ I think this city needs to
focus on getting rid of drug dealers.
Almost every other day someone tried to
sell drugs to me.”
- Collaborate between sectors to
decrease substance abuse (says one Portlander,
"Draw a triangle with church, community and
local government at the 3 points.").
- Increase police presence in areas where
drug dealing occurs; for example, increase
the use of mounted police in parks and along
- Increase resources for the Multnomah County
Drug Court Program (S.T.O.P.) and the treatment
- “More awareness of the business community’s
knowledge of the drug problem and how they
might be part of the solution. Keep people
employed and on health care.”
- Legalize marijuana in order to free up resources
to aggressively combat the production, sale,
and use of meth, cocaine and other highly
- Start addressing the root causes of substance
abuse and addiction.
drug use among youth threatens the future
of all of Portland’s children.
- Respondents express concern over the number
of street youth using drugs in downtown Portland,
fearing that this sets a negative example
for other youth.
- Drug use among youth is also linked to gang
activity, drop-out rates and violent crime
committed by youth.
- Some respondents would like to see street
youth with substance abuse problems treated
for their addictions, both for their sake
and for the community’s health and well-being.
would like to see the panhandlers and
homeless teens off of our downtown sidewalks.
People should not be allowed to openly
do and sell drugs in Waterfront Park like
they do. What happened to the horse patrols
that used to go through the park?”
people options…[people] use drugs as a
response to despair. There is a connection
between low school graduation rates among
and drug abuse within the African American
the future] people are working/off the
streets/off drugs. Kids are taken care
of and loved by their families – not neglected
and abused. Kids are being educated and
nurtured to blossom, be healthy &
eventually take a productive place in
society for Portland to be a great city.”
- Increase and improve early education
on the harmful and destructive effects of
- Provide youth with positive adult role models
who are not sports or entertainment stars,
with their frequently-reported drug and alcohol
- Create more commercials and public service
messages about the harmful effects of drugs
such as meth, crack and cocaine.
- Improve the public education system to keep
youth excited about and engaged in learning
and productive behavior.
- “Help for the mentally ill and the children
of drug and alcohol abusers. We need to spend
money at the root of the problem and not at
the end result.”
should also limit the use of legal addictive
substances such as cigarettes and alcohol.
- To a lesser extent, Portlanders are worried
about the abuse of legal substances such as
hard alcohol and cigarettes. Some respondents
consider these substances to be more harmful
than illegal drugs such as marijuana.
- Many Portlanders advocate for Oregon to
follow Washington and California in prohibiting
smoking in restaurants and bars.
- People applaud the city’s decision to make
public places like Pioneer Square and Tri-met
- Some respondents want smoking banned throughout
Oregon, including public areas like downtown.
- Raise cigarette and tobacco tax
in the city limits.
- Create stronger campaigns to educate children.
- Expand the hours of public transportation,
specifically the MAX, to persuade people not
to drink and drive.
- Create a beer and wine tax to fund drug
- Eliminate billboards advertising alcohol,
gambling, and smoking.
offers many effective recovery and rehabilitation
- Respondents want to draw attention to the
wonderful work that is currently underway
to rehabilitate those recovering from addictions.
Former addicts speak of Portland as a place
where they were able to get clean and re-integrate
- Frequently-mentioned services for drug users
and addicts include:
- The Drug Court of Multnomah County (S.T.O.P);
- The Detox Center;
- The treatment provider InAct; and
- Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) and Narcotics
- Community members commend these programs
for how well they work and the positive difference
they make in the lives of addicts and their
- Many Portlanders are convinced that rehabilitation
and treatment programs like these should be
used instead of incarceration, which they
believe is more costly to society in the long
- In addition to treatment centers, rehabilitation
centers and recovery programs, people also
value services such as free syringe exchange
and good support networks for people in recovery.
- People want increased funding to improve
existing programs and to create more programs
to serve more people.
a recovering attick [sic], I value all
the help that I received in Portland…I
was employed by Portland Parks and Recreation
when I only had 9 months clean. Soon I
will have 4 years clean. And with the
help of Portlanders, I was able to transition
into society. I love the people.”
“[Portland] is where I have learned recovery
and am beginning to make my life with
a positive future.”
“[In the future] the City has led a partnership
program to engage businesses in drug treatment
services. Co-sharing of job training and
a commitment to help people help themselves.”
- “Create more housing programs for
single mothers in recovery.”
- Move recovery housing from places where
drug dealing is occurring.
- Open facilities for people on meth; set
up programs to find and treat meth abusers.
- “Maybe more rehab clinics? Really drug use
is totally a personal choice and I'm not sure
how you could possibly change that, the prison
system definitely isn’t the answer. Maybe
free personal and life counseling to everyone…”
is the appropriate community response to substance
While Portlanders agree that the criminal act of manufacturing
and selling drugs should be dealt with as harshly
as possible, opinions are deeply divided on the issue
of how to deal with substance abusers. The primary
disagreement is between those who see substance abuse
as a health issue that requires prevention and treatment
and those who see substance abuse as criminal activity
that must not be tolerated and should be punished
under the law.
Many Portlanders see addiction as a tragic illness
and feel compassion for those individuals who become
addicted to substances, whether they be legal substances
such as alcohol or illegal substances such as meth,
cocaine and other “hard” drugs. These respondents
believe that the only appropriate and effective
response to substance abuse is to provide abusers
with the treatment and services they need to overcome
their addictions, re-integrate into their families
and communities and become productive members of
society. They advocate for increased resources for
detoxification and rehabilitation as well as longer-term
services such as job skills counseling, mental health
counseling and other services that people with addictions
need to get to the point where they can turn their
"[I would like to see] commitment to helping get
people with mental illness or addiction off the
streets and into care or rehab facilities to treat
them, not putting them in jail or ignoring them.”
Many others, however, hold a very different view
of substance abuse. These Portlanders see drug use
as a form of criminal activity and believe that drug
users, as well as those who eventually become addicted,
should be held accountable and punished like other
criminals. They believe that Portland is “too soft”
on drug users and that the availability of services
such as syringe exchange, counseling and housing for
drug users only exacerbates the problem. They advocate
a “get tough” approach and want to see drug users
off the streets and in jails, believing this is the
only way to create cleaner, safer streets and environments
for law-abiding Portlanders, and especially for children.
"Portland needs to hold the bar higher for people.
They need to expect accountability. We need to
stop reinforcing the idea that people can’t do
it themselves. What do you have when you sober
up a horse thief? A sober horse thief. What happens
when we instill and reinforce entitlement issues
in criminal, homeless people, and addicts? Portland
needs to help people who are willing to do the
hard work and stop throwing money at those who
don’t want a better life.”
"Stop the crime and drugs. Put people in jail
and keep them there.”
Still others do not subscribe to either of these
positions. These Portlanders do not see treatment
or law enforcement as the answer, but would rather
prefer to see resources re-directed towards prevention.
From this perspective, the important thing is to break
cycles of addiction and prevent children and individuals
from becoming addicted in the first place. Placing
people with addiction issues in jail or serving them
only when their drug use has compromised their quality
of life does little to actually reduce rates of substance
abuse over the long term. Instead, resources should
be spent on education, family counseling and other
services that can prevent people from turning to drugs
and other addictive substances in the first place.
“Focus on health and prevention instead of pathology
and services for those who have fallen.”