PENINSULA — In sixth grade, Brandon* started using marijuana.
“The more pot I smoked, the less I cared about anything that mattered,” Brandon said. “My grades went downhill as fast as I did.”
At 17, Brandon no longer focused on playing football or class. He focused on heroin and other drugs. For about the next 20 years of his life, Brandon spent his time in and out of jail and prison.
Before his first time in prison, Brandon learned he had a daughter on the way. He wasn’t able to meet her until his sentence finished when the baby was two months old. After a few years clean, he turned back to heroin, in turn losing his daughter.
“I’m still thankful that my aunt was the one to step up ahead of me and prepared to raise the little girl that I thought I was ready to raise,” Brandon said. “I thought she meant the world to me. Now if that was true, I should have been able to put the needle down, right? Wrong. Heroin was my world.”
After years of being estranged from his family due to his addiction, Brandon is trying to get his life in order and fight his drug addiction. He has been approved for drug court but is facing a possible prison sentence for drug possession charges.
“But I know if I can just get clean I can eventually have my life and family back,” Brandon said.
Brandon shared his story of opioid addiction as part of the Willapa Behavioral Health’s 2018 Pacific County Opioid Summit.
Residents gathered on Sept. 12 at the Peninsula Church Center to learn about the opioid epidemic from presentations by local healthcare providers, experts and community members.
The summit had a simple motto: It is time to address the effects of the opioid epidemic in Pacific County.
A variety of illegal and prescription drugs are considered opioids. Opioids include heroin, fentanyl and pain relievers such as oxycodone (OxyContin) and hydrocodone (Vicodin), according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Opioids have been used since the Civil War Era, said Dr. MaryAnne Murray, a Willapa Behavioral Health prescriber.
Since the 1990s, opioid prescriptions have increased. Oxycodone, sold as OxyContin, has gained popularity since the 1990s as well. However, in recent years obtaining opioids such as OxyContin and Vicodin has gotten more difficult, which has resulted in an increase of heroin use, according to the American Council on Science and Health.
Dr. Dave Cundiff, a prescriber for Willapa Behavioral Health, provided information on opioid use that is occurring both locally and nationally.
“Every family has some kind of addiction in it,” Cundiff said.
Pacific County averages about two deaths a year related to opioid use, Cundiff said. Washington state’s average is about 15 deaths per 100,000 people. Nationally, there are about 20 opioid-related deaths per 100,000 people.
Between January 2016 and January 2017, 64,070 people died of drug overdoses in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Most people are first exposed to opioids through prescriptions, Cundiff said. Even a first exposure to opioids can lead to brain effects, he said.
Cundiff said current strategies to fight opioid use aren’t doing enough. His suggestions for improving opioid outcomes include minimizing vulnerability, initial prescriptions and street sales. He also suggests early intervention, nurturing relationships and using Narcan nasal spray, which is used as a lifesaving emergency treatment for narcotic overdoses.
Other suggestions of Cundiff’s are locking up prescriptions, not telling people what prescriptions you have and keeping children away from prescriptions.
“There’s something for everybody in terms of what we can do,” Cundiff said.
Tom Sutherland, co-owner and pharmacist of Peninsula Pharmacies, stressed the importance of Narcan. Sutherland encouraged attendees to become familiar with how to use the spray and to add Narcan to their safety kits.
Sutherland also encouraged attendees to keep medicines secure and get rid of outdated medicines by either taking them to a community drop box or through a mail back program. A community drop box is at the Long Beach Police Department.
Salina Mecham, therapist at Willapa Behavioral Health, provided a list of suggestions for those who know someone struggling with addiction.
“You can’t effectively help someone without helping yourself too,” Mecham said.
Three reasons why someone may be struggling with addiction are emotional numbing, loss or physical pain, Mecham said.
Mecham discussed tips for four main sectors which result in overall health: mental, physical, spiritual and emotional.
For the mental sector, Mecham suggests watching out for thinking errors, not allowing yourself to be a victim, exercising your brain regularly and focusing on the positive aspects of situations.
For physical wellbeing, Mecham suggests eating properly, getting enough sleep, exercising, getting sunshine, showering regularly and staying on top of medical issues.
Mecham noted a sense of purpose is important when discussing tips for spiritual wellbeing.
Mecham had a variety of suggestions for maintaining emotional wellbeing. Her tips include giving space to feelings and talking about them, self-care, setting boundaries, keeping judgment out of interactions with others and supporting others. One tip Mecham had was to help others find the help they need through activities such as group activity, outpatient care and counseling.
Willapa Behavioral Health, in Long Beach and Raymond, provides mental health and drug/alcohol support programs. Contact 360-642-3787 or www.willapabh.org.
Free by the Sea is a residential drug addiction and rehabilitation center in Ocean Park. Contact 800-272-9199.
KLEAN is a male residential drug addiction and rehabilitation center in Long Beach. Contact 360-244-7919.
In Tokeland, the Shoalwater Wellness Center provides mental health and substance abuse treatment services. Contact 360-267-8141.
Jordan’s Hope for Recovery helps individuals and families struggling with addiction and alcoholism throughout Washington and Oregon. The organization lists local Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymousand Al-Anon Meetings online at jordanshope.org/recovery-meetings.
The National Substance Abuse Helpline can be reached at 1-800-662-4357. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255. Both lines can be reached at anytime.
The WellSpring Community Network, which promotes community wellness, has a directory of local resources online at www.wellspringpacific.org/directory.html. The network also hosts prescription drug take back events where community members can dispose of unused prescriptions.
*Name changed to protect privacy