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My favorite news of 2020: Oregon voted to decriminalize some drug possession and earmarked large amounts of funding towards addiction treatment.

Now It might not work. Funds could be diverted. Treatment investments could follow special interests rather than data. Patterns of substance use might shift in a negative way. And of course, treating addiction solely as a medical problem (which isn’t anyone’s goal, by the way) can fail to address the full human needs of people with addiction.

But at the end of the day, the current system of treating addiction primarily as a moral issue hasn’t worked. The war on drugs is a catastrophic failure by almost any standard. Innovation at this level is a huge step in the right direction. Even if it fails, we’ll have data helping us understand why it failed.

There will be a loud contingent reminding us that substance use is a choice, and that people should face the consequences of their choices. Of course there is some level of choice involved–just like there is with almost every other possible health problem. But the natural consequences of addiction are already so severe that we don’t need to pile on any more shame. 

Is addiction a moral issue? That is a deeply personal question that everyone battling substance use gets to decide for themself. Who am I to judge? 

How we treat each other, on the other hand, is a deeply moral issue. And in the endless debates about what should and shouldn’t be a human right, we often forget to bolster our beliefs in inalienable rights with appeals to human decency. What world would I want to live in if my child dealt with addiction? One that leans on kindness, evidence, and a belief that people change if they get the help they need. It’s not perfect, but I like where it’s headed.