Senate committee axes proposal for mandatory addiction treatment for children  

Oregon lawmakers decided they don’t have enough time to research, debate and pass a bill this session to would allow parents and guardians to force their children to enter residential programs for drug addiction treatment.

As initially written, Senate Bill 1547 would have given parents the authority to require their children to be evaluated and, if needed, enter addiction treatment for up to 14 days even if the minor did not consent. The Senate Human Services Committee kept the rest of the bill, which would address other parts of the addiction crisis and health care workforce shortage. 

As it is now, the bill would start a pilot program using the 9-8-8 crisis line to connect drug users  to a pharmacy or hospital  to access medication to treat their addiction. That service would be available 24 hours a day, seven days – just as it is for other behavioral crises, including suicide prevention. Those services would continue to be available.

The bill’s chief sponsor, Sen. Cedric Hayden, R-Fall Creek, said during a Senate Human Services Committee hearing Monday that the program would give someone immediate help to treat their addiction, regardless of the day or time. A big problem now is that people often have to wait for help, and by the time it’s available, they might not be still interested. 

Hayden proposes dedicating $5 million to start the program under the Oregon Health Authority.

The bill also would require health insurers to cover medically necessary treatment for minors when they are addicted to cannabis.

And it would address the shortage of emergency medical responders by requiring the health authority to study ways to recognize the training and experience of military-trained medics to license veterans as emergency medical technicians or paramedics. Hayden said that would help rural areas with shortages of emergency medical responders.

Opinions vary on mandatory treatment 

The bill will go to the Senate Rules Committee, which can pass the portions that remain. The original idea of mandatory treatment is likely to come up next session. 

Hayden said the intent of the proposal was to enable parents and guardians, including foster parents, to get their children into treatment.

“If you look at the foster care system, I think that there is a lack of ability for the agency to get treatment for children that have been taken into the foster care system,” Hayden said. 

Oregon’s foster care system, run by the Oregon Department of Human Services, has faced criticism for housing foster children in temporary hotel rooms when they lack appropriate placements. Many of those children have been abused or suffered trauma and are already vulnerable even in a stable setting. 

Hayden stressed during the hearing that the bill would not have allowed parents to dump their children off at a residential treatment center. The kids would need an evaluation and a finding that the child could benefit from residential treatment for up to 14 days. 

But there’s one problem: capacity.

Paul Bryant, executive director of Madrona Recovery, which serves adolescents in the Portland area, said treatment centers lack space and they are not equipped for involuntary admissions. 

“We don’t have enough beds right now in the state to make this work,” he said, adding that treatment centers would need to change their physical layouts. 

Demand is already high for voluntary admissions. Madrona Recovery is currently serving nine youth, with 32 others on a waiting list.

Bryant said it would be possible to make involuntary admissions work with more programs and infrastructure.

Sefana Wilde, a Portland mother who lost her 15-year-old son Isa Wilde to a fentanyl overdose in 2023, urged lawmakers to take action, holding up a photo of her son.

“We really need to make movements and make action and get our heads out of you-know-where into thinking that for whatever reason it is logical or sound to give the decision to receive treatment to a child,” she said, adding that children cannot vote, get tattoos, own firearms or enlist in the military. “We have as a society recognized they are not old enough to make all these different kinds of decisions.”

When a child cannot make a decision, Wilde said, they need help.

“They cannot do that on their own. It is unfair and it is a losing battle.”

Sen. Sara Gelser Blouin, D-Corvallis and the committee’s chair, said that over the coming year, lawmakers will look more deeply at the issue and address concerns, such as how to narrowly craft it to cover children with very severe needs.

“It’s an incredibly important conversation,” Gelser Blouin said in an interview. “It really is a life or death situation.”

When the session started, lawmakers warned they would not have time to tackle every part of the drug addiction crisis, despite making it a priority during the short session, which is 35 days.


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Ben Botkin - Oregon Capital Chronicle

Ben Botkin covers justice, health and social services issues for the Oregon Capital Chronicle. He has been a reporter since 2003, when he drove from his Midwest locale to Idaho for his first journalism job. He has written extensively about politics and state agencies in Idaho, Nevada and Oregon. Most recently, he covered health care and the Oregon Legislature for The Lund Report. Botkin has won multiple journalism awards for his investigative and enterprise reporting, including on education, state budgets and criminal justice.