A new study commissioned by the CDC found no correlation between Oregon’s drug decriminalization law and rising overdose deaths.

The study was published Wednesday, Sept. 27 in JAMA Psychiatry, a peer-reviewed medical journal. Researchers said after Oregon became the first state to decriminalize all drugs via Measure 110, they wanted to gauge the impact of the new policy. They looked at data spanning a year, from February 2021 to March 2022, and concluded overdose deaths in states with drug decriminalization laws, like Washington and Oregon, weren’t higher than those without the same policies. Researchers found fatal overdoses increased in multiple states, likely due to an influx of fentanyl.

Measure 110 was passed by Oregon voters in 2020. The law allows users caught with a small amount of hard drugs to be referred to drug treatment, rather than jail. It relies on funding from cannabis taxes to establish and pay for treatment programs.

While some have blamed Oregon’s law for a rise in drug use and overdoses, those who compared public health data across multiple states say that hasn’t proven true.

The study’s authors noted they “found no evidence of an association between legal changes that removed or substantially reduced criminal penalties for drug possession in Oregon and Washington and fatal drug overdose rates.”

The study was funded by the CDC, with aid from CDC scientists.

Corey Davis is one of the seven researchers who worked on the study. Davis works with the Network for Public Health Law and the Harm Reduction Legal Project, and also serves as an adjunct professor at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine.

“To be clear, fatal overdoses are up in Oregon, but they’re also up everywhere,” Davis said, summarizing the data. “The question is are overdoses up more than they would’ve been without Measure 110?”

In simple terms, if Oregon’s new decriminalization law was causing more people to use and fatally overdose on drugs, Oregon’s overdose death rates would be higher than comparative states without such a law, but that isn’t the case.

Davis said typically, health researchers aren’t eager to publish study results with no notable outcomes.

“We basically found nothing,” Davis told the Mercury. “In general, you want to publish research where you found something, but I think in this context, that’s actually really helpful.”

As a harm reduction advocate, Davis and others hoped Measure 110 would help reduce overdose deaths, but it had no measurable impact.

The study is notable, especially as scrutiny of Measure 110 grows across Oregon. Critics, including local elected leaders, are quick to blame the law for an increase in overdoses and public drug use, despite data to the contrary.

Last week, a new coalition geared toward repealing key elements of Measure 110 called the Coalition to Fix and Improve Ballot Measure 110, announced it had already taken in more than $700,000 in donations, primarily from wealthy donors like former Columbia Sportswear CEO Tim Boyle, Nike co-founder Phil Knight, Jordan Schnitzer, Ed Maletis, and others.

The coalition’s ballot initiative aims to recriminalize possession of drugs like heroin, methamphetamine, and fentanyl, and make it a crime to use hard drugs in public. The initiative would also mandate addiction treatment for those in possession of hard drugs, while maintaining funds from cannabis taxes for treatment services.

The chief petitioners include Jackson County Sheriff Nate Sickler and former Oregon lawmaker Max Williams, who falsely claimed in a recent announcement that Measure 110 is worsening “Oregon’s addiction and overdose crisis.”

The Measure 110 study published Wednesday only includes data on fatal overdoses, not overdoses where naloxone or some other intervention prevented death. That’s largely because reliable data on the prevalence of non-fatal overdoses is difficult to get, and likely inaccurate. Researchers noted many overdose incidents never get reported, often due to fear of jail or other legal consequences.

The study was also limited to the first year after Measure 110 went into effect, because that was the only data available to researchers. Davis said his team will examine additional years of data as it becomes available.