Emails find OHA intentionally hid a publicly funded study when it concluded alcohol taxes don’t curb excessive drinking, then lied about outside lobbyist’s involvement

PORTLAND, Ore. — Today, the Oregonian followed up on its investigation into the Oregon Health Authority withholding a publicly funded report that contradicted its position on alcohol tax increases. The Oregonian found OHA lied as recently as Feb. 2, 2024, in a letter to state Sen. Tim Knopp about the entire debacle, saying the report was not shared with “partners or special interests prior to its posting” on Jan. 25, 2024. Yet OHA emails obtained through public records requests show after several OHA officials received the final report in 2021, they asked Oregon Recovers’ Mike Marshall for his input on how to proceed while he and the agency continued lobbying for higher alcohol taxes with the Governor and state legislature.

Emails show an outside lobbyist paid to advocate for higher alcohol taxes, Oregon Recovers’ Mike Marshall, was weighing in on what should have been government agency edits and decisions around the report. OHA also appears to strongarm ECONorthwest, the economic research firm it hired to draft the report, pushing them to never publicly link to the final report as is standard practice, and instead only making public an interim report without the tax policy findings.

“The emails confirm what many suspected – the Oregon Health Authority is using taxpayer dollars to deliberately mislead the legislature and public. The Oregon Health Authority and its employees have been significantly compromised,” said the Oregon Beverage Alliance. “This is outrageous and we demand answers and accountability.”

OHA officials also lied to the media and members of the Legislature’s Task Force on Alcohol Pricing and Addiction Services chaired by Rep. Tawna Sanchez. Edits of OHA’s summary to accompany the report continued for six months after the final report was given to OHA, proving the report wasn’t forgotten about during the chaos of COVID as claimed by OHA officials at the Feb. 1, 2024, Task Force on Alcohol Pricing and Addiction Services meeting. The task force is slated to hear from that same OHA official, as well as an ECONorthwest economist who worked on the report, on Feb. 23, 2024.

“Oregonians should be extremely skeptical of information the Oregon Health Authority provides. We expect truth and ethical conduct from the Oregon Health Authority – a public health agency,” said the Oregon Beverage Alliance. “Oregon Health Authority has fallen short of that public expectation.”

Lawmakers are growing increasingly frustrated with OHA as it fails to address a fentanyl drug addiction crisis and roll out Measure 110 funding. Recent reports show massive disfunction at OHA. Despite receiving more than $1 billion more to spend on mental health and drug addiction and recovery services, OHA has spent almost nothing over the past three years despite having dozens of shovel ready project funding requests. Alcohol is the third largest source of revenue for the state, yet only 3% of that revenue goes toward funding mental health and drug addiction recovery and treatment.


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