(KPTV) - The State of Oregon has seen a dramatic decrease in drug convictions, with state figures showing thousands fewer convictions than just a couple years ago.
Multnomah County District Attorney Rod Underhill, whose office has also seen a decline in drug convictions, said the local decline is due in large part to the county's "Treatment First Program," which was launched in April, 2017.
The program offers drug offenders a pathway into treatment, and downgrades drug crimes from a felony to a misdemeanor.
As a result, Underhill said, felony conviction rates for drug possession have dropped sharply, and racial disparities in conviction rates have leveled off.
"What we're trying to do is recognize in the area of substance abuse, that this is more akin to, and in fact, actually a disease," Underhill said.
David Sigurbjartsson was one of the first people to benefit from the program, when he was offered treatment during a court appearance for a drug possession charge.
Although it took him months to get clean, Sigurbjartsson said he graduated from the program, and had his misdemeanor charge dismissed.
Formerly homeless and addicted to heroin, he now has a job and an apartment.
"A year and a half ago, I would have never imagined this was possible," Sigurbjartsson said. "I just didn't think I was worth it at the time."
Clean and sober now, his thoughts about that have since changed.
"I have a lot to give and there's a lot that I can do with myself. And I have a lot of promise," Sigurbjartsson said. " Now I feel like I've been given a second chance."
According to the district attorney's office, 2,500 people have participated in the Treatment First Program since its launch.
Copyright 2019 KPTV-KPDX Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved.