When COVID‑19 hit Oregon in early 2020, many services began shutting down. An unintended consequence of stay‑at‑home directives was an alarming increase of drug overdoses. Later in 2020, wildfires forced thousands of local residents to evacuate while homeless people were left watching and uncertain what to do.
“We realized then that we had no regional plan to help homeless and low‑income people who struggle with substance use disorder during emergencies,” said Joanna Kubes, Community Health Improvement Program specialist. “Now, thanks to a federal grant, we have a plan.”
Substance use disorder is a disease of dependency on legal or illegal drugs and medication including alcohol. In the best of times, it can be difficult for people to seek treatment, counseling and peer support. Lack of housing, transportation, health insurance and finances are among the barriers, and these barriers are compounded during times of crisis, disaster or pandemic, Kubes said.
The new plan will supplement existing emergency preparedness plans. It will provide a framework of support and coordination for substance use disorder prevention, treatment and recovery services. To create and implement this plan, Samaritan obtained a federal grant on behalf of the Coast to the Cascades Community Wellness Network, a well‑established consortium that addresses health issues across Benton, Lincoln and Linn counties.
Along with gathering information from a wide range of service agencies throughout the region, those who wrote the plan sought input from people who have lived experience in recovery.
“We believe this is the first such plan in the nation to address this issue,” Kubes said. “Our plan is specific to our three counties, yet broad enough to be adapted by other agencies throughout the nation. Our hope is that all communities can be prepared to assist our most vulnerable populations so they are not forgotten during times of disaster.”
For more information about the plan, visit cccwn.org.