Addiction treatment services are important to help resolve alcohol problems in society. In Oregon, however, treatment services are heavily under-funded. This means people have to wait in line for a month or more to access public residential services to support their recovery. While waiting, some die from overdoses, and for others the situation goes from bad to worse.
Alcohol is an addictive substance. The industry which produces, promotes, markets and sells alcohol is responsible for the harm caused by their products and practices. Specifically, considering that the alcohol industry targets people with alcohol use problems to get most of their profits.
A solution for lack of funds for treatment services exists in Oregon in the form of a bill before the Oregon Legislature, dubbed the Addiction Crisis Recovery Act. The bill, if passed, would raise millions of dollars for treatment and recovery services by increasing beer and wine taxes.
The House Bill 3296 is sponsored by Rep. Tawna Sanchez, D-Portland, and Rep. Rachel Prusak, D-West Linn. The bill would increase wholesale beer taxes from $2.60 a barrel to $72.6 and for wine, by 65 cents per gallon to $10.65.
Oregon Recovers estimates the increased taxes would generate $373 million in tax revenue annually.
This additional government revenue could be invested for much needed services in the following way:
- 10% of the new funding would go to prevention,
- 20% for interventions outside of the criminal justice system,
- 35% to expand inpatient and outpatient treatment,
- 25% for recovery support, and
- 10% for workforce development.
The strategic plan with this bill would both reduce the amount of people who become addicted in the first place and increase the amount of people who get into recovery,” said Tony Vezina, director of 4th Dimension Recovery Center in Portland who is on the Oregon Recovers steering committee, as per Oregon Live.Tony Vezina, director, 4th Dimension Recovery Center
Communities are campaigning to get the bill passed. It would address the severe resource gap by creating hundreds of additional treatment beds. At the same time, the funds would help increase prevention action.
Like all tax hikes, the bill would need a three-fifths super majority in the House and the Senate to pass.
Big Alcohol, dependent on heavy users, opposes the much needed alcohol tax
The alcohol industry is aggressively opposing the bill as it threatens their profits. If people receive help for their alcohol problems they will reduce or quit using Big Alcohol’s products.
Analysis shows how dependent the alcohol industry is on heavy alcohol users. If the top 10% of alcohol consumers would be supported in reducing or quitting alcohol use – for example through alcohol taxation – so that their consumption level would fall to the level of the next lower group (the ninth decile), total alcohol sales would fall by 60%.
While 30% of the American population live free from any alcohol consumption and another 30% consume less than one alcoholic drink per week, on average, the top 10% of alcohol users – 24 million adults over the age of 18 – account for more than 50% of the alcohol consumed in any given year.
Clearly Big Alcohol is dependent on heavy alcohol consumers for their profits.
One consequence is that the heaviest [alcohol users] are of greatly disproportionate importance to the sales and profitability of the alcoholic-beverage industry,” writes Philip J. Cook, author of “Paying the Tab”.
Already in 2003, a comprehensive study showed that underage alcohol users and adult heavy alcohol users in the United States were responsible for 50.1% of alcohol consumption and 48.9% of consumer expenditure.
Alcohol tax would double funding for addiction treatment and recovery services
Mike Marshall, director of Oregon Recovers estimates the alcohol taxes increase would generate $373 million annually. That would more than double the state’s budget for publicly funded alcohol and other drugs treatment services.
Currently access to treatment services across Oregon is distributed unequally. The bill would distribute the resources equitably, thus promoting health equity.
Investment in much needed prevention action
A part of the revenue from the increased taxes would be invested in the following prevention initiatives:
- Educate all health providers about signs of substance use disorder and how to intervene early.
- Street-based outreach aimed at individuals experiencing homelessness who might be struggling with both a substance use disorder and other mental health issues.
- Additional behavioral health staff and more housing, ranging from sober homes to permanent supportive housing with continued mental health services, to prevent people falling off of recovery.
Raising taxes is one of the three Best Buy policy solutions recommended by the World Health Organization to prevent and reduce harm caused by the products and practices of the alcohol industry. They are scientifically proven, cost-effective, high-impact and benefit vulnerable people more.
Big Alcohol opposition
Alcohol industry lobbyists are opposing this life saving public health policy citing pandemic pressures and already existing taxes.
Oregon Recovers estimates the cost of the alcohol tax rise to the consumer would be minor, equating to an extra 21 cents for a 12-once beer and an extra 31 cents on a glass of wine. Alcohol industry groups claim it could be more than that but have not provided any estimate or evidence.
Several alcohol industry companies, groups including, Utopia Vineyard and Winery in Newberg, Deschutes Brewing, Wayfinder Beer, Oregon Wine Council and the Oregon Beverage Alliance are opposing the alcohol tax increase.
Currently, taxes on beer and wine in Oregon are very low compared to other states. Because of this, Ben Hansen, an economist and tax expert who teaches at the University of Oregon, believes that the tax increase would be fair.
Adding 21 cents for a beer that costs five or eight or 15 dollars, that doesn’t seem significant,” said Ben Hansen, as per Oregon Live.Ben Hansen, economist and tax expert, lecturer, University of Oregon