I used to have a great Norman Rockwell-like picture in my Pendleton kitchen of our friends sitting on benches in our backyard cheering on a group of little boys playing basketball. Today three of those boys are incarcerated for heroin. Tragically in 2006, one of those young men committed suicide escaping his opioid addiction. And, in 2008, one died from heroin and whiskey overdose.
Since January 2015 I have advocated mental health and addiction services for more than 10 of my former students addicted to illegal narcotics. Please do not mistake this as an ax to grind. I did this after being asked by desperate moms, sisters, aunts and grandmothers. I advocated out of love. Each of these young people battling addiction is over 26 years old and not eligible for their parent’s insurance. And, most often, their addiction started with a sports injury treated with a painkiller.
These young people came from good families, schools, churches, and communities. None had committed a crime in January 2015, let alone felonies.
Going to service agencies and help meetings for the past three years, I have witnessed the dysfunction of the Umatilla County Drug Treatment Program, mental health services, the turnover, the pass-the-buck attitude, the absences of staff, the frustrations of law enforcement about lack of appropriate mental health services, and Lifeways’ continuous struggles. As county leadership voted themselves outlandish salary raises, Umatilla County became the Pacific Northwest leader in sexually transmitted diseases. When commissioners fired the three supervisors of the drug treatment program, this action has resulted in an unsettled lawsuit. During these times of disrupted leadership and services, my former students’ addictions grew.
Today, I have observed each go from being addicted to opioids to becoming criminal drug addicts and menaces to society in Umatilla County. All have several felons and all are incarcerated today. It costs $94.50 daily to keep each one of them individually caged.
Each time you read about a meth or heroin addict in the East Oregonian, know there is an average of 20 family or friends behind that person whose lives have suffered endless grief as they have tried to advocate services.
As a Umatilla County voter, either you can choose to maintain the status quo or vote for change. Please support Rick Pullen for Umatilla County commissioner. He will not sit on his laurels and will address real issues.