With new perspectives on addiction, community programs evolve

With law enforcement no longer the lead point for substance abuse intervention, several community peer-based programs are developing to support addicts in their journey toward recovery.

“The Blake decision removed the justice system as the primary intervener for people with serious substance use issues,” said Richard Uri, a Substance Use Disorder Professional and Behavioral Health Coordinator at San Juan County Health and Community Services. He spoke to the Journal about his personal experience. “The new point of intervention will be families, treatment centers and other health care facilities.”

In February 2021, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision in the State of Washington v. Blake that the state’s law outlawing possession of drugs such as cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin for personal use was unconstitutional. The decision led to the immediate dismissal across the state of pending drug possession charges and the need to vacate or erase prior convictions under the drug statute.

Recovery Rides, recovery cafes and the Recovery Navigator Program are all a part of that effort. See “New program to help islanders receive transportation to off-island rehab centers” by Colleen Smith, in the Journal’s July 6 issue to learn more about Recovery Rides. Read the full article at https://www.sanjuanjournal.com/news/new-program-to-help-islanders-receive-transportation-to-off-island-rehab-centers/.

The New Day Recovery Café will open on Nov. 8 in Friday Harbor. It is located in the new building on Mullis Street near Bakery San Juan and the Food Coop. The name reflects the concept that in recovery, individuals need to get through one day at a time.

Recovery cafes are a nationwide model that provides support for recovering addicts, according to Joyce Soble Family Resource Center’s Peer Support Specialist Mary Uri. The resource center’s Executive Director Jennifer Armstrong said two generous grants enabled the launching of the cafe. The New Day Recovery Café Network provided $50,000 and the Washington State Healthcare Authority grant of $56,340. ‘

“The Healthcare Authority grant is being shared between our center and the Lopez Family Resource Center, which is also launching the program at the same time as us,” Armstrong explained.

Mary said she saw a huge need as she stepped into her role with the center.

“It’s a thread that runs through our high-needs population,” she said.

Mary pointed out there is no housing dedicated to clean and sober living in the county, which would make a huge impact on those with substance abuse disorders.

Mary struggled with addiction herself. After receiving treatment, she craved a place where she could just be and hang out with those who are going through similar issues.

“I actually love it when a person can be honest and say ‘I’m not doing so great today,’” she said.

In order to qualify for a cafe membership, the individual simply must be clean and sober. They can visit the cafe a couple of times to see if it’s a good fit, but after that, they become a member. In the morning, coffee and pastries will be offered, and for lunch, there will be soup and bread. All food is donated. Board games, puzzles and other activities will be available and Mary noted she would love to see members doing projects like trash pick-ups and tidying up a garden or giving back to the community in some way.

Staff will be present to check people in. If a person tries to attend who is not sober, they will be turned away.

“It will be with love. The staff person may say something like ‘how about tomorrow? Let’s try again tomorrow,’” Mary said.

Cafe members will sign up for chores like serving the food or doing dishes. The meal will not be served until all chore slots are filled. There will also be five minutes of silence before eating to provide time for people to think, reflect or even pray.

“It just creates a really beautiful space,” Mary said.

In order to maintain membership to the cafe, one does need to attend its support group. If they miss one, they will lose their membership. They can try again in the future. The primary focus is loving accountability. There is a separate room off the cafe where support groups meet with generally eight people in attendance. People can talk about what is going on with them, what they are struggling with and what they would like to see differently in their lives and receive feedback from support members. The cafe could use volunteers.

“Anyone who has a heart for recovery, we can use volunteers to be a part of it,” Mary said.

Like the New Day Café, Compass Health’s Recovery Navigator Program strives to meet substance users where they are currently and focus on harm reduction. RNP was created in the wake of the Blake decision to provide short-term assistance while addressing the immediate needs of the individual and coordinating with resources for longer-term support. Currently, there are staff on Orcas, San Juan and Lopez, and serve people on all islands.

“Our clients generally have too many barriers so we go to where they are at, home, coffee shops,” said Teresa Tilton, manager of Compass Health’s Mobile Crisis Outreach in San Juan and Island counties. She added that a safety screening is done prior to that first meeting.

“We are pushing for the patient, not for sobriety,” she said. “Sometimes it can take six months to a year. Some people have to try five times, and we will still be there for them,” Tilton said. RNP takes a holistic view as well, working with the substance users’ entire family and multiple agents. We want to create a support model to help facilitate change.”

Referrals come from families and law enforcement and it isn’t unheard of for a person to self-refer. The program is available to youth and adults. Tilton stated they are currently assisting at least two young islanders. All insurance types are accepted, and individuals without insurance will not be turned away. Staff can assist with food shelter and detox and provide transportation to off-island detox centers if necessary.

“Not every client requires the same amount of care, and if we are not a good fit, we will find something that is,” Tilton said.

They are always happy to take calls, even from friends and family members. They are open Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. at 360-200-7660. For more information, visit https://www.compasshealth.org/services/rnp/.

“We know treatment helps. Drug courts exist because research has shown that even when treatment is imposed on people, it interrupts the addiction cycle long enough for people to make better decisions and improves the chances they will get into recovery,” said Judy Heinemann, Director of Skagit, Island, and San Juan County Compass Health Outpatient Services, adding that if a person does relapse after treatment, studies show they are more likely to seek help themselves.

Addiction, Richard pointed out, while a health care issue, differs from other health problems.

“We have to help them find solutions,” Richard said. “We don’t have to baby them, but be a part of their recovery process, a part of their support network.”