Rep. Davis' Pathways to Recovery Act passes out of committee

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Rep. Lauren Davis, D-32
Pathways to Recovery Act
House Bill 1499 Passes to Appropriations

Prime Sponsors Rep. Lauren Davis, D-32; 
Rep. Kirsten Harris-Talley, D-37

Signing on as sponsors: 
Rep. Ryu, D-32, Rep. Valdez, D-46, Rep. Pollet, D-46

By Donna Hawkey

“Substance use disorder is a response to trauma. We should not be asking why the drug but why the pain? It’s about not wanting to experience the presence because it’s too painful a place to be, “Rep. Lauren Davis.

The Washington State House Legislature has passed an urgently needed and innovative bill. The Pathways to Recovery Act, HB 1499, will overhaul the current system for untreated addiction or Substance Use Disorder (SUD). And it lessens criminal prosecution for that medical disease by shifting to a treatment-based model for all urban and rural areas.

There has been a 38% increase in overdose deaths in the first half of 2020 compared to the first half of 2019. SUD is yet another health crisis disproportionately affecting American Indian/Alaska Natives, Hispanic/Latinx, and Black citizens. 

According to the WA State Department of Health, the 2020 increase in overdoses has been the largest in these communities, who are already dealing with inequitable health outcomes.

HB 1499, Pathways to Recovery, addresses the crisis of SUD and creates a profound bridge to sustainable SUD recovery. “There is nearly universal agreement that our state’s response to addressing substance use disorder is woefully inadequate,” Rep. Davis.

Rep. Lauren Davis, 32nd District, thanked her “amazing” co-sponsor, Rep. Kirsten-Harris Talley, and others at a public hearing on February 12, 2021.

At the hearing, eighteen individuals spoke in full support, and two spoke in opposition. Heard were a range of voices from people directly affected by SUD: government officials, prosecutors, religious leaders, and a group of international government leaders with decades of SUD treatment experiences.

In Full Support- Eighteen individuals – Summary of testimony

Drug addiction is a treatable brain disease that is a medical need. SUD criminalization is a barrier to treatment. There is evidence that SUD treatment is hidden from doctors due to shame and leads to further abuse. A lack of public understanding and goodwill that addiction is a defined disease by the medical profession is a barrier, too.

People become caught in an endless cycle of felony charges and warrants that trail them the rest of their lives, even upon becoming drug-free. Difficulties in getting a job, a rental lease, a mortgage, or a credit line all become negative social and economic consequences of criminalizing a disease. Social isolation and the feeling that a person is less worthy due to addiction are other serious outcomes.

Those that lose their children to addiction describe their deepest despair and loss of hope when they witness their child start their teenage years with addiction and end up in the criminal system with a permanent record, or worse, death by overdose. This happens to families regardless of education, income, job, or neighborhood.

Some children grow up as witnesses to parents’ or guardians’ routine drug usage and dysfunction; thus, it becomes learned behavior.

There is some rehab success in the criminal system, but it’s not nearly enough and always accessible. The current system is not well-equipped for preventative, follow-up, and recovery support. 

Treatment first - not punishment - works best, according to examples within Washington State and worldwide. “First, do no harm,” is a good motto.

The United States jails more people than any other country in the world. The elimination of illicit drugs and availability has not been successful in the US or anywhere globally. HB 1499 is compared to nine other countries and follows all the current best practices. It is considered a holistic and comprehensive approach.

Some key findings from other countries: when SUD gets treated with adequate compassionate and evidence-based services, petty crimes drop dramatically, courts and jails are less burdened, and illicit drug decriminalization does not lead to more drug use.

With Opposition- Two Individuals– Summary of testimony

The opposition expressed concerns centered around eliminating criminal penalties for possession of small personal amounts of controlled substances. Public safety and mixed messages are essential considerations, too, and there is the potential to disseminate misinformation that illicit drug use is now acceptable.

After an Executive Committee discussion and vote on February 15th, HB 1499, Pathways to Recovery Act, is referred to Appropriations for budget analysis.

“A very small portion of people living with substance usage disorder are ever arrested for possession. This bill is about reaching every person living with substance use disorder before they ever touch the legal system,” Rep Davis.

If you know of anyone who wants treatment or wants to learn more, please see the Washington Recovery Helpline, or call 1-866-789-1511.

The next step for the bill is to be scheduled on the House calendar for a vote.


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