News Article Details

Lane Co. residents encourage addiction to be recognized public health crisis

Register-Guard - 9/11/2019

September is National Recovery Month and addiction resonates particularly in Oregon, where the state ranks fourth highest nationally in addiction, and about half of Oregon's chronically homeless population have a substance addiction.

During Monday's Eugene City Council meeting, people working with nonprofit Oregon Recovers gave testimonies in favor of officially declaring addiction a public health crisis. Many Lane County residents shared stories about their personal fight with addiction.

"What we're trying to achieve here is really shifting the narrative of the conversation around the stigma around addiction," Se-ah-dom Edmo, a spokeswoman for Oregon Recovers, said in an interview with The Register-Guard. "So it's declaring it a public health crisis and not a criminal justice issue."

Oregon Recovers is an organization founded by Mike Marshall, an Oregonian who has been recovering from addiction for 10 years now. While working to get sober, he was frustrated by a fractured system.

"It was an arduous process, back when I was getting sober. But because I'm a privileged white guy, I had all kinds of resources available to me," Marshall said. "And that's not the way healthcare system is supposed to work."

The organization successfully rallied in 2018 to pass legislation that put a deadline on the Alcohol and Drug Policy Commission's outline to improve the state's publicly funded substance abuse programs. While the commission had previously been tasked with creating a plan, they failed to do so for nine years.

The legislation marks what activists hope to be just the beginning of state efforts to address addiction in Oregon. Edmo described various remaining barriers to recovery in Oregon, including a lack of peer services and on-demand services.

"So if someone needs to detox from alcohol, for example, our emergency rooms aren't required to give them access to treatment," Edmo said.

Oregon Recovers has successfully called on small government bodies to declare addiction a public health crisis in Jackson County, Medford and Bend. In addition to coordinating various declarations, the organization is hosting walks for recovery. Lane County's walk is 10 a.m. Saturday at Skinner Butte Park. Registration costs $35 and can be done online. Registration assistance can be found at 971-335-9033.

"It's a true crisis in the sense that we lose one to two people a day in drug overdoses, (from) both meth and opioids, and we lose five people a day in alcohol-related deaths," Marshall said.

"So that's a grand total of over 2,100 people a year, which is 700%, higher than the worst year of the AIDS epidemic in Oregon back in 1994. So untreated addiction is devastating Oregon."

Follow Tatiana Parafiniuk-Talesnick on Twitter @TatianaSophiaPT or email at Tatiana@registerguard.com.

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