Sending The Wrong Message

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The Clergy for New Drug Policy Weekly News Round-up

“Let justice roll down like waters.”

Amos 5:24

Dear Friends and Colleagues, 

I became a father for the first time last year. Time and again I was told that there was nothing that could fully prepare me for that experience and friends, that is the truth. 

When thinking about issues of drug policy the question often arises, what kind of message would this send to kids? As a new parent, I fully agree with the importance of that question. The things that we allow or don’t allow, praise, or condemn do send important messages to children about our values. 

Next week the Department of Justice is set to make an important decision on whether or not overdose prevention centers (OPCs) can legally operate in the United States. OPCs (sometimes called supervised consumption sites) allow people who use drugs to do so in an environment where they have access to clean equipment and under the attention of staff who can respond to medical issues that may arise. 

New York City recently opened the first two publicly operating sites in the United States following the more than 120 sites operating across the globe. As you’ll read below, these sites have been extensively studied and there is no evidence that they increase crime or drug use and conclusive evidence that they provide much-needed emergency medical care and reduce the spread of diseases like Hepatitis C and HIV/AIDs. 

In June, Clergy for a New Drug Policy partnered with Faith in Harm Reduction to promote a sign-on letter encouraging Attorney General Merrick Garland to create a pathway for OPCs to operate legally in the United States. With the updated timeline from the DOJ, you have another chance to sign on if you haven’t already.

Am I concerned that opening OPCs will send the wrong message to young people? Absolutely not. I’m concerned about the message we are sending young people by failing to open them. 

Here are a few of the messages I hope my daughter, and young people across the country, do hear: 

God loves people who use drugs. So do we. 

There is no chemical so powerful that it can separate you from the love of God.
Every person is created in the image of God and is worthy of dignity and respect regardless of their drug use status. 

Help people that others have given up on. 

No one is beyond hope. 

We support any step towards positive change. 

OPCs won’t solve the overdose crisis but they can and do save lives. 

Let’s hope it sends the message that our culture of punishment needs to be transformed into one of healing and restoration. 

Keep the faith,

Timothy McMahan King
Senior Fellow, Clergy for a New Drug Policy

Appellate Court Agrees with Government that Supervised Injection Sites are Illegal under Federal Law; Reverses District Court Ruling

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What’s the legal status of overdose prevention centers in the United States? 

Before New York City opened the first overdose prevention center in the U.S., Safehouse, a Philadelphia nonprofit, attempted to open an overdose prevention center in Philadelphia. However, the Trump Administration blocked the plan, and eventually, the Third Circuit ruled that it is a federal crime to open an overdose prevention center  for “illegal drug use.” The Supreme Court declined to take the case. 

The case has continued in a lower federal court. In March the Justice Department signaled it may be ready to allow overdose prevention centers stating, “although we cannot comment on pending litigation, the Department is evaluating supervised consumption sites, including discussions with state and local regulators about appropriate guardrails for such sites, as part of an overall approach to harm reduction and public safety.”

The Justice Department has until December 5th to file a formal response in the lawsuit. 

What’s The Evidence That Supervised Drug Injection Sites Save Lives?

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While still controversial in the United States at least 100 overdose prevention centers operate around the world, mainly in Europe, Canada, and Australia. 

2014 review of 75 studies concluded that overdose prevention centers promote safer injection conditions, reduce overdoses and increase access to health services. Overdose prevention centers were associated with less outdoor drug use, and they did not appear to have any negative impacts on crime or drug use.

A look inside the 1st official safe injection sites in U.S.

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On November 30, 2021, New York City opened the first overdose prevention center in the United States.

During the first three months, the sites halted more than 150 overdoses during about 9,500 visits — many of them repeat visits from some 800 people in all. While several state and city officials embraced the sites, the sites also fueled protests that included government officials. 

California governor vetoes supervised drug injection sites

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Opposition to OPCs is political rather than ideological or evidence-based. The Manhattan Institute, a far-right think tank, hosted a panel discussion on the topic and came to a mostly positive, albeit cautious, conclusion. 

In August of this year, California’s Democratic Governor, Gavin Newsom, vetoed Senate Bill 57 which would have authorized overdose prevention center pilot programs through Jan. 1, 2028.

Drugs & Crime in Oregon

grygielny Harm Reduction, OR

The Clergy for New Drug Policy Weekly News Round-up

“Let justice roll down like waters.”

Amos 5:24

Dear Friends and Colleagues, 

In 2020, voters in Oregon overwhelmingly supported ballot measure 110. This groundbreaking measure made Oregon the first state to decriminalize possession of small amounts of drugs and expand addiction services through cannabis tax revenue. In addition, the state is establishing regulated access to psychedelic-assisted therapy and retreats. 

Kassandra Frederique, Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance called the passing of Measure 110, “the biggest blow to the war on drugs to date.”    

While the measure reduced the violence of the war on drugs, it would be a mistake to call it true peace. As Nelson Mandela reminded us:

Peace is not just the absence of conflict; peace is the creation of an environment where all can flourish, regardless of race, color, creed, religion, gender, class, caste, or any other social markers of difference.

Ending the “war on drugs” isn’t just about stopping the violence and trauma of arrests and incarceration, it’s about ensuring access to harm reduction, recovery services, health care, housing, and quality jobs. 

One of the major criticisms of Measure 110 has been that few people who have accessed services have entered into treatment. This is true but ignores that there are still huge gaps in treatment access and capacity throughout the state. And, additional funding for these services was held up until September 2022. 

We don’t have any reason to believe that Measure 110 has increased drug use. Overdoses in Oregon were on a rapid rise before the changes in the law due to illicit fentanyl contaminating the drug supply. And, we have no reason to believe that crime trends are any different than in other comparable cities.  

While critics have already proclaimed that Measure 110 is a “failed experiment,” the reality is that it has yet to be tried. 

War can provide a false sense of moral clarity. You know who the “enemy” is and you “win” by defeating them. The work of peace is much more difficult and slow going. It requires breaking down barriers and building opportunity. 

Arresting and caging a person today may make some voters feel better in the moment but it fails to take into account the generational trauma, devastated communities, and stifling of opportunity for years to come. 

In Oregon, the fighting has slowed. But, that doesn’t mean that true peace has been achieved. A lot more investment is needed in high-quality harm reduction and attractive treatment services to create an environment where everyone can flourish. 

We’ve provided a breakdown of more of what you need to know about Measure 110 below. 

Keep the Faith, 

Timothy McMahan King

Oregon Voters Want Measure 110 to Remain in Place

While two gubernatorial candidates actively campaign for repealing Measure 110, the public still believes in the project. 

A recent Data for Progress study of 1,051 Oregon voters found that Measure 110 retains strong majority support. Specifically, a majority of Oregon voters believe drug use and addiction is a public health issue and that Measure 110 should remain in place. 

Additionally, voters overwhelmingly support individual provisions of the law and understand that Measure 110 is not contributing to crime and homelessness in Oregon.

Building the Evidence: Understanding the Impacts of Drug Decriminalization in Oregon

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Although politicians are falsely pushing the idea that Measure 110 is causing an increase in crime and overdoses, this claim is directly contradicted by another recent study. The study states:

  • The public’s use of the 911 system did not change significantly after Measure 110 was enacted in Portland;
  • Portland 911 calls for service data track very closely with data from comparison cities in nearby states for property, disorderly, and vice offenses, with similar seasonal fluctuations; and
  • The CFS (calls for service) data do not support the negative perceptions of Measure 110 that were expressed by the criminal legal system representatives we interviewed in Oregon 

Additionally, drug possession arrests significantly decreased after Measure 110 took effect on February 1, 2021, according to data from the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission. Once Measure 110 took effect, the monthly average fell by 65%, and it held steady for the first half of 2022.

New study finds large gaps in services for substance use disorder treatment in Oregon

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There is still a lot more work to be done on ensuring the presence of opportunities where all can flourish. A study published in September found a nearly 50% gap in services for substance use disorder treatment, prevention, recovery, and harm reduction in Oregon. 

The study’s lead author, Katie Lenahan, a research project manager at the OHSU-PSU School of Public Health stated “We definitely see gaps in harm reduction access. Syringe exchange programs, we have less than half of the number that is necessary to really meet the need. Naloxone distribution, we see a 28% gap, so the need for much more access to naloxone And then fentanyl test strips so people can test and make sure their drugs are safe, we saw about a 35% gap in facilities that offer that resource.”

Without funding, groups doing harm reduction and recovery work can only be partially successful. 

Legalize Fentanyl Test Strips

grygielny Harm Reduction

Last year, to combat the devastating effects of illicit fentanyl, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration announced federal funding could be used for a simple, yet critical, overdose prevention tool: fentanyl test strips. 

Fentanyl test strips (FTS) are disposable, single-use tests that can detect the presence of fentanyl or fentanyl analogs in a substance. 

In a 2018 study at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, researchers conducted interviews with 335 people who use drugs in Baltimore, Boston, and Providence. Of those surveyed 85% desired to know about the presence of fentanyl before using drugs, and 89% agreed that drug checking would make them feel better about protecting themselves from an overdose. Perhaps most importantly, 70% of respondents reported that knowing that their drugs contained fentanyl would lead them to modify their behavior. 

This small shift could have outsized positive effects. We know fentanyl test strips are easy to use, inexpensive, and can lead to more care when using drugs which can, in turn, lead to fewer fentanyl-related overdose deaths. 

But under outdated drug paraphernalia laws, fentanyl test strips remain illegal in nearly half of U.S. states.

“We hope all the states would come to realize the dangers of contamination are so high and that fentanyl test strips empower a person taking drugs to know whether they have fentanyl,” said Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse at the National Institutes of Health.

The movement to legalize fentanyl test strips is growing. In the past year alone, Arizona, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, and Wisconsin have made legislative moves to remove fentanyl test strips from their paraphernalia laws.

Costing about $1 each, fentanyl test strips are the most basic level of harm reduction. 

Yet, some states including Florida, Texas, and Kansas, recently had the opportunity to decriminalize fentanyl test strips and balked. A Kansas state senator, Sen. Kellie Warren, who is against the proposal to decriminalize fentanyl test strips in Kansas is quoted as saying, “The best warning to figure out whether (the drug you are using) might have fentanyl in it is don’t buy the illegal drugs.” 

But we know prohibition and abstinence are proven failures as drug policy. 

We know harm reduction works and some ways of using drugs are clearly safer than others. 

Fentanyl test strips allow for a safer supply and safer use, which minimizes the harmful effects of fentanyl rather than simply ignoring or condemning it. 

Yet, when given the choice, policymakers in many states are choosing not to respond to the growing number of fentanyl-related overdoses. Or, they are adopting punitive policies for the sale and possession of fentanyl that do little to deter sale or usage but will decrease the likelihood of calling for emergency services in a crisis. Will fentanyl test strips fix the overdose crisis? Certainly not, but they can help save lives now. 

Our founder, Rev. Alexander Sharp said years ago “At its core, our faith is about love. But one cannot love in the abstract. One loves in relationship. We can’t love our neighbor without caring about what happens to our neighbor. Advocacy is a form of caring.”

Loving our neighbors starts with caring and advocating for them.  

It’s time for states to take this small step toward harm reduction and update outdated drug paraphernalia laws. 

Urge your state legislators to choose to save lives instead of simply ignoring or condemning the harmful effects of fentanyl.


Clergy for New Drug Policy 

Support the Opening of Overdose Prevention Centers

grygielny Harm Reduction, Take Action

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

Blessings to all of you who are observing Holy Week and Passover this week. 

It’s been exciting to jump in with Rev. Sharp and help to identify new opportunities for the CNDP community to make a difference. Faith leaders are a critical voice when it comes to ending the War on Drugs. 

For too long, our society has reduced substance use and substance use disorders to moral failings and responded with punishment and incarceration. We are in desperate need of a compassionate public health approach to drug use. 

First, thanks to all of you who took action to support the Marijuana Opportunity and Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act. The bill has passed the House! 

As you might know, the Senate will be the big challenge for this legislation. But, this historic House vote continues to demonstrate that the tide is turning against cannabis prohibition. 

Second, we have another action opportunity for you. CNDP has partnered with Faith in Harm Reduction to launch a faith-leaders sign-on letter to support the opening of Overdose Prevention Centers (OPCs) — oftentimes referred to as supervised consumption sites. 

120 OPCs operate in countries across the globe. They are an evidence-based harm-reduction strategy that saves lives, improves health, and reduces the spread of disease. OPCs allow people who use drugs to do so in a medically supervised environment and provide critical services like drug testing and sanitary equipment. 

No one has ever died from an overdose in an OPC. They’ve been studied intensively and shown not to increase drug use or crime in the communities where they operate. 

Tragically, they are still considered illegal under federal law. New York City opened the United State’s first official OPC back in December in a direct challenge to these unjust restrictions. Now, Attorney General Merrick Garland will make a determination as to whether or not the federal government will move to close these centers or allow them to operate. 

Will you make sure that AG Garland hears from faith leaders who support this important work?

Add your name and voice today. 


Timothy McMahan King 

Vote YES on The MORE Act Today

grygielny Marijuana Legalization

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

About three weeks ago, I was pleased to announce that Timothy McMahan King had joined Clergy for a New Drug Policy as Senior Fellow. My hope was that together we could expand the capacity of CNDP both to work with other organizations to toward our goal of ending the War on Drugs and also to broaden our advocacy efforts toward this end.

We have now identified the first such opportunity. Specifically, we seek your support of the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act of 2021. This bill would declassify marijuana as a controlled substance under federal law. (Currently, cannabis is listed as a Schedule 1 substance, defined as having “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”)

The MORE Act would also remove the collateral consequences of marijuana arrests such as denial of food stamps and student loan eligibility. It would ensure that individuals could not lose their immigration status for marijuana possession. Finally, it would also provide funding for equity programs seeking to reverse the discriminatory enforcement of our cannabis laws over the past 50 years.  

The decision on how or whether to legalize cannabis would be a state issue. No longer could those opposing cannabis legalization at the state level cite federal law to support their position.

I believe this bill would serve as the death knell to marijuana prohibition in this country.

Tim and I ask that you to take action today. Our friends at the Drug Policy Alliance have set up an easy form for you to do so. 

We need your help to cross the finish line so please urge your Representative to vote YES on the MORE Act today.  
We expect a vote on this bill in the House of Representatives today. It is essential, therefore, that you act quickly.  


Rev. Alexander E. Sharp, 
Executive Director, Clergy for a New Drug Policy