LONG BEACH — The crowd at the 2019 Pacific County Opioid Summit stood to applaud Stevie Brown as she finished talking about her recovery from drug addiction.

Brown spoke during a community leaders panel at the summit held Sept. 25 at the Chautauqua Lodge. She thanked the county drug court for its support in getting her through recovery. And she had a message for those in the community not yet in treatment for drug addiction and dependency.

“There are people in this county that have hope for you,” Brown said.

On the panel with were Long Beach Chief of Police Flint Wright; Jessica Verboomen, a student support specialist with Educational Service District 113 and True North; Dan Hymas, from Comprehensive Treatment Centers; Judd Comer, criminal justice program specialist and jail liaison; and Salina Mecham, a Willapa Behavioral Health therapist.

Stigmas often wrong

Brad Webb, 65, raised his hand during the community leaders panel to say that 34 years ago methadone treatment saved his life. Webb is now a certified substance abuse counselor and a board member for Peace of Mind Pacific County, a local advocacy and support group for people with shared experiences of mental wellness and brain health issues.

“I never thought I could do something like this,” Webb said. “And that is the larger message; you can do this.”

Stigmas associated with drug use are often wrong, said Bethany Barnard, event organizer and coordinator for Pacific County’s Opioid Response Team. These misperceptions can create barriers for people who need treatment. The summit puts local leaders and community members in the same room so everyone can learn together about drug addiction and dependency.

Katie Lindstrom is the deputy director for Pacific County’s Department of Health and Human Services. The health department recognizes that in order to recover people need more than just medication. They need housing, food, shelter, clothing — all the basic needs that many people living with drug addiction don’t have, Lindstrom said. Those needs must be met before someone can become self-actualized and have the ability to commit to treatment, she said.

Brown didn’t start treatment for addiction after her first, second or third arrest. She avoided drug court at first. But when she was 12 weeks pregnant she sought medically assisted treatment for her disease. That is what saved her life, she said. Brown’s daughter attended the event and sat on her mother’s lap as the panel finished.

People dying

The event’s keynote speaker was Dr. John Hart, a preventive medicine physician in Vancouver, Wash., who works with PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center. Hart highlighted how drug addiction can cause physical changes in the brain that prevent people from stopping their drug use.

The grim reality is that the death rate of people using opioids is not dropping and strategies need to change, Hart said. Medically assisted treatment for drug addiction should be more prevalent and drugs like Suboxone, Vivitrol and methadone should be used as tools to help brains recover from drug addiction, Hart said.

Drug court support

The medication is one part of recovering from addiction, Hart said. Regular check-ins and peer support are also important.

Brown’s story of recovery reflected that. She described how she had to change the way she ate, the friends she had and where she lived. During her treatment, she was asked about her goals for the future. She couldn’t think of anything except staying clean. But the drug court asks its participants to think bigger. Now she is studying to become a chemical dependency counselor.

“If it weren’t for the drug court I wouldn’t be in school,” Brown said.

She listed off the many requirements for drug court participants, including having a full-time job or in an equivalent educational program. Participants submit to regular urine analysis and the program lasts 18 months.

“Its not the easy way out in anyway,” Lindstrom said.

Get involved

The summit was also meant to encourage people to get involved in the local programs to combat opioids in the community, Lindstrom said. People interested in volunteering with the Pacific County Opioid Response Team can contact Bethany Barnard by email at bbarnard@co.pacific.wa.us or by phone 360-875-9343.

The opioid summit was presented by Pacific County Health and Human Services, Wellspring Community Health Network and Willapa Behavioral Health.

Other community partners included: Chautauquah Lodge Long Beach Resort; Molina Healthcare; Cottage Bakery; Coordinated Care; Valley View; Big Brothers/ Big Sisters; Ocean Beach School District; Boys and Girls Club; Cascade Pacific Action Alliance; Family Health Center; Lifeline Connections; True North/ESD 113; Parent Child Assistance Program; and Peace of Mind Pacific County.

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