“I didn’t have a plan to die but I didn’t have a plan to live either.”
That was how Gina Myers described her life when using meth and alcohol to numb the pain – the pain of domestic violence, the pain of losing custody of four children and the pain of knowing she would wake up the next day and use again.
Gina’s Story is Not Uncommon
Oregon ranks second in the country for substance use disorder, with 18.2% of the population addicted to drugs or alcohol. Between 2019 and 2020, drug overdoses were up by 39% in Oregon. In Lincoln County, opioids overdoses have doubled in the past three years.
Alcohol is an even larger issue, killing more Oregonians than all other drugs combined. Oregon has the fifth highest rate of alcohol-related deaths in the country (38.2/100,000), but the rate in Lincoln County (59.1) is even higher. Between March and August 2021, 12,225 Lincoln County residents were screened for substance use disorder, with 1,297 individuals screening positive for drugs, including alcohol, and 886 people were diagnosed with substance use disorder. Yet, Oregon ranks 50th in the nation for access to treatment programs according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Data gathered by our Regional Mental Health/Substance Use Coalition shows that Lincoln County has a critical shortage of evidence-based treatment, recovery and transitional/wraparound services for residents affected by substance use disorder. This is resulting in high rates of preventable morbidity and mortality among county residents.
Before entering residential treatment, Gina spent time in prison, where she gave birth to one of her daughters. She also spent time in the intensive care unit for damage to her throat caused by alcohol use and bulimia.
A Critical First Step
The effects of substance use disorders ripple from the individual, to families, to entire communities. Gina’s husband Todd and her oldest daughter Desirea were also using drugs and alcohol and she was afraid the family would never heal. Gina’s four children were living with their grandparents and Gina thought she didn’t deserve to be their mother while her children wondered when their mom was coming home.
Inpatient treatment is a critical first step in the recovery process for many individuals, but there are currently no inpatient services in Lincoln County, and limited outpatient services available. Lack of access to inpatient treatment has historically been a significant barrier to recovery for residents of Lincoln County, and can be an insurmountable barrier to overcoming substance use disorders. The closest inpatient programs are over an hour or more away and have long waitlists that prioritize individuals from their own communities, leaving Lincoln County residents with few options.
Samaritan Health Services owns and operates a Samaritan Treatment & Recovery Services facility in Lebanon and would like to replicate this program in Lincoln County. The program provides holistic, evidence-based inpatient and outpatient treatment services, including group and individual counseling, medication-assisted treatment, and support for co-occurring mental health issues. Samaritan Treatment & Recovery Services also supports community education around substance use disorder; peer support in the community to meet individuals where they are; peer support in the emergency department to assist patients in entering treatment; training for hospital staff to support patient entry into treatment; and distribution of Narcan, an opioid overdose reversal drug. The program also prepares individuals when they enter treatment, whether it’s for residential or outpatient services. As in Lebanon, the Lincoln County treatment and recovery center will provide an opportunity for the intensive inpatient services that can be so critical to successful recovery.
While Gina was in a residential treatment center in Corvallis, her youngest son came to stay with her. He hadn’t been responsive to caregivers or achieving milestones, but when he was with Gina, he began to thrive. “That was when I realized that I’d been running away from my kids for so long because I thought I didn’t deserve them and that they didn’t want or need me,” Gina said. “When I started running towards them, they were waiting for me with their arms wide open. TJ’s response showed me that I could be a good mother. It wasn’t too late.”
Historically, inpatient treatment centers require financial partnerships to create and maintain. As part of its mission, Samaritan Health Services is committed to operating a treatment and recovery center in Lincoln County, but needs partners to finance the facility itself. As a nonprofit health care system, Samaritan Health Services doesn’t turn anyone away for inability to pay or insurance type. That’s why the Pacific Communities Health District Foundation and North Lincoln Hospital Foundation are seeking funding to support construction of a Samaritan Treatment & Recovery Services facility in Lincoln County.
Located on the coast, the 16-bed facility will provide inpatient and outpatient treatment for Oregon adults with substance use disorder. An estimated 800 individuals will receive direct services at the center each year – 200 individuals will receive inpatient services, and approximately 600 will utilize outpatient services, including group and individual therapy, medication-assisted treatment and peer-delivered services. The center will serve individuals from all across the State of Oregon, with priority to residents of Lincoln County.
We Can’t Do it Alone
Samaritan Health Services works closely with members of the Mental Health Substance Abuse Subcommittee, which is actively engaged in addressing substance use disorder in Lincoln County. The subcommittee’s membership is composed of substance abuse treatment and service professionals who work together on multiple projects and are known among local organizations as strong and reliable partners. The creation of the Mental Health Substance Abuse Subcommittee and the Regional Harm Reduction Coalition has assisted with breaking down organizational silos to develop partnerships committed to combining resources to get in front of this epidemic. A key principle of these plans is to ensure that prevention, treatment and recovery services are affordable and accessible.
Today, Gina is one of those partners. She is now a certified drug and alcohol counselor with Reconnections Counseling and a trained doula, specializing in helping pregnant women in prison. “I’ve come full circle,” Gina said. “From giving birth to my own baby in prison to helping other women in that situation see that there is hope. I used to think I had to do it all alone and I kept failing. I finally realized the value of support and I tell the women I work with, let people love you; let them help you.”
Knowing what it was like to experience houselessness, Gina and Todd now live in their own home and she has full custody of all of her children. Todd is also sober and has a thriving general contracting business. And Desirea? Mom and daughter share a sobriety date Oct. 15; and Desirea is studying forestry at Oregon State University. Just as substance use disorder affects entire families and communities, so does sobriety.
You Can Help Create This Vital Service
If you would like to help people like Gina rebuild their lives and families and strengthen their communities, you may donate online through either coast foundation at: give.samhealth.org/NLHF or give.samhealth.org/PCHDF. Select Coastal STARS from the drop-down menu. Or mail your gift made payable to either North Lincoln Hospital Foundation or Pacific Communities Health District Foundation to the Samaritan Foundations Central Office.