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Oregon lawmakers won't allow parents to force their children into drug abuse treatment

Oregon's shareholder votes will now be easily accessible online.
Chris Lehman
The proposal drew support from parents and caretakers concerned about overdoses, but pushback from those skeptical of its efficacy and worried about the capacity of treatment facilities.

Oregon lawmakers have rejected a proposal that would have let parents force their children into treatment for drug abuse.

The policy was part of SB 1547. If passed, treatment facilities could have held a minor with a substance use disorder for up to two weeks, provided it had permission from their legal guardian.

On Monday, the Senate's Human Services Committee adopted an amendment that removed this section from the bill.

Critics of the proposal had been skeptical about its efficacy. In submitted testimony, child psychiatrist Han Liang said that forced commitment could increase the risk of overdose by lowering a patient's drug tolerance.

Rep. Lisa Reynolds, a Washington County Democrat, wrote that with a limited number of beds, this policy could block access for voluntary patients. And she said providers aren’t equipped for youth that don't want to be there.

“These must be locked facilities,” Reynolds said in submitted testimony. “Staff is not prepared for the possible dysregulation that comes with forced admission.”

At the committee hearing Monday, multiple parents and caretakers had testified in support of the policy, including Sefana Wilde, the mother of a 15 year old who died from a fentanyl overdose last year.

“If a child is struggling with something that is life-threatening, and they do not have the ability to make the choice that will save their life, we as a society have to help them,” said Wilde. “They cannot do that on their own—it is unfair, and it is a losing battle.”

Wilde said unlike with suicidality, there aren’t protections in place when a teenager’s drug use creates a danger to themselves. She said when her son was at risk, state officials told her they couldn’t force him to get help.

Kim Bartholomew, a nurse with the Beaverton School District, testified that teenagers take risks as their prefrontal cortexes are still developing.

“Adolescence is a time for kids to kind of figure out who they are, and start making those decisions for themselves,” said Bartholomew. “With a substance use disorder, they are not capable of making good decisions. “

One of the bill's co-sponsors, Sen. Cedric Hayden, R-Fall Creek, responded to the concerns about facility readiness in his testimony Monday.

“I know that the State of Oregon probably doesn't have all the infrastructure that we need for that type of concept,” said Hayden. “But I believe we need to build it.”

SB 1547 now awaits action in the Senate Rules Committee. The remaining sections would add services for opioid abuse to the 988 hotline, develop a licensure program for local emergency services, and make insurance companies cover treatment for cannabis use disorders among youth.

At Monday's hearing, Sen. Sara Gelser Blouin, D-Corvallis, said she hopes to return to the issue of youth commitment in the future.

"We heard just really clear testimony about the importance of finding a path to treatment for young people," said Gelser Blouin. "So we'll be working on that in the interim, recognizing the challenging, important and delicate issue that that is."

Nathan Wilk joined the KLCC News Team in 2022. He is a graduate from the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication. Born in Portland, Wilk began working in radio at a young age, serving as a DJ and public affairs host across Oregon.
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