In Coos County, there are five facilities approved to be a part of the behavioral health resource network. This means for places like Bay Area First Step, a peer-run addiction treatment center, they would receive a share of the roughly $4.5 million that is expected to come to the county from Measure 110. This grant funding is to be used for drug addiction recovery, treatment and other services. For Bay Area First Step, the money will allow them to purchase more housing for those seeking treatment, and to expand their working hours so that they can provide services 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Steve Sanden is the executive director of Bay Area First Step. Devin Bailey-Wilson is the lead peer mentor there. They join us to share what drug use looks like on the coast and the impact M110 funding makes in a community like Coos Bay.
Note: The following transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer.
Dave Miller: This is Think Out Loud on OPB. I’m Miller in Coos Bay. We start today with a deep dive into Oregon’s addiction crisis. Earlier this month, the Oregon Health Authority announced that funding from Measure 110, for drug treatment and recovery services, close to $300 million total, has now been approved for all the counties in the state. About $4.5 million of that is coming to Coos County and half of that is going to one peer-run nonprofit, it’s called Bay Area First Step. They provide all sorts of services, peer recovery counseling, treatment for substance use disorder, transportation and transitional and permanent housing. We went to Bay Area First Step to get a better sense for what drug addiction looks like on the south coast right now, but also how a big infusion of state money could change the situation. We were joined by Steve Sanden, the executive director and Devin Bailey-Wilson, who is the lead recovery mentor. Steve has been there for 20 years. I asked how much has changed in that time.
Steve Sanden: When I first came here, we primarily focused on housing, safe supportive housing, and of course, we still do that. But what’s changed is that we’ve, the peer services have become more of a focus, even though we always did that, it wasn’t really recognized as a best practice at the time. So since I’ve come here, the state has done certifications for peer work, we became certified early in the certification process the state put together. We started getting paid for some of it through different contracts and things and that helped us grow.
Miller: Getting paid for work you were already doing but not getting paid for?
Miller: Getting reimbursed from the state?
Sanden: Usually from the state through the counties, it would trickle down.
Miller: What’s the connection between addiction recovery or substance use disorder treatment or help and housing? I mean why focus so much on housing? I should say that when we pulled into your parking lot here, I thought we were pulling into a motel.
Sanden: Well it used to be a motel.
Miller: Okay so there’s a reason.
Sanden: It’s got that look.
Miller: Yeah so why focus on housing?
Sanden: Well I think that Devin could tell you how difficult it is to provide services to someone that isn’t housed. Typically, I mean it’s just a huge challenge for them to get services, to receive the services they need.
Miller: Devin, I mean what is it like as a peer support person, as a peer mentor here, what’s it like to provide those services to somebody who doesn’t have a home?
Devin Bailey-Wilson : It’s challenging, because most of the time they have to move their camps around, their tents around, and you get comfortable moving and seeing where their tents are at or where their camp is and then all of a sudden, they have to move. They have 72 hours to move, this is because ordinances or whatever it be and it makes it a challenge. Most of the time they don’t have cell phones. So we’re doing street outreach, meeting them literally where they’re at and so it’s a hit and a miss. So we can go out, look for this person, not see them and then another day, weeks later, we can see them and then be like, oh hey, let’s get this opportunity and get it done.
Miller: So what are you, what are you saying to people there? I mean and have they invited you or are you just pulling off on the side of the road and talking to a stranger?
Bailey-Wilson : I would say it’s a mix. I mean, obviously if we see somebody, we’re like, oh hey, and then we, we put out the harm reduction, right? That’s when we would implement our harm reduction services. We’d be like, oh hey, do you need this or that?
Miller: And what, what is this or that?
Bailey-Wilson : So we have a needle exchange, we have a NEX program, We also provide socks, we provide Naloxone, Narcan. We do Narcan trainings out in the field. If somebody’s not educated on how to use it, especially with the fentanyl uprise.
Miller: Narcan, meaning to reverse an overdose?
Bailey-Wilson : Yes, absolutely, absolutely. So I mean that’s just some of the services we provide, but like Steve said, we also provide housing and everything else when we can, so even that and housing is an integral part, because if we don’t have that staple of like, hey we know where these people are, we know that we can just go there on a whim the very next day and actually help people get enrolled in these primary care services. Health coverage is a big deal, and all the other services that we provide, having a staple with them being there, helps immensely.
Miller: Steve, Devin had that phrase, the fentanyl uprise. Going back to this, the question of the time you’ve been here, 20 years now, can you give us a sense for the shifts in drugs that are most prevalent and also most destructive?
Sanden: Sure. Well, when I came here we, we’ve always, the organization had already existed for five or six years. And we tracked the primary drug of choice, we called it, and opioids were almost unheard of. I mean, it was on the list, actually we had heroin or pills, was what we chose from, on our little database.
Miller: And pills could be prescription pain pills?
Sanden: They could have been pain pills or they could have been benzos also.
Miller: Like Valium?
Sanden: Right and very few people, very few people used that as their primary drug of choice. We saw methamphetamine and we saw alcohol and I would still say, other than the fact that there’s so much fentanyl out there, that those still are those two most deadly drugs, in my opinion.
Miller: Meth and alcohol?
Sanden: Or at least I don’t know that that’s so deadly, but it certainly causes huge, huge health problems. And there are people ODing on meth all the time and dying. But what’s changed is the amount of opioid use and whether it be heroin or pills, being OxyCodone or whatever, and typically both of those are contaminated with fentanyl nowadays, that’s the huge increase. And the other difference is just the amount of people dying. I mean, we didn’t used to have people die so often. People might do some crazy things, they might do whatever, they might get in trouble or something, but rarely did we have people dying. And now it’s not that unheard of. We have so many overdoses that are unreported really…
Miller: Really? That the county medical examiner just, it’s not marked on the official records, you’re saying?
Sanden: Sometimes, a lot of times. And I think that a lot of times they don’t necessarily die. There’s so many people that do get revived with Narcan and stuff. It’s just incredible when I listen to my guys, our folks out in the field,
Miller: Devin, you’re nodding this whole time in a pretty solemn way. What do you see on any given day?
Bailey-Wilson : A struggle, I feel like, I see a struggle every day. It’s like Steve said, there’s definitely an uptick in overdoses and unreported overdoses, I would have to say. As a street outreach worker, I get told by many participants or clients, hey, this is what’s going on, I mean, this has happened and we brought him back because of the Narcan that you distributed and that’s a big deal, to me, at least. And it’s just a struggle.
Miller: A struggle for people, a struggle for you to help people, a struggle for people on the street to to survive. I mean, who is, who is struggling when you say that?
Bailey-Wilson : I think it’s both ways, right? I mean, it’s a struggle for them to know that there’s access to care, right? I mean that we’re here and it’s a struggle for us to get to where we need to be. There’s so much, still there’s some red tape that we need to cut through.
Miller: The whole idea of the peer support model, and Devin, you’re the lead peer here, is that people who are in recovery are helping people who are either also in recovery or trying to get in recovery, trying to get clean. What did addiction look like for you?
Bailey-Wilson : Addiction started really young for me. I was about 13 when I was introduced to meth and I predominantly grew up here in Coos Bay, North Bend, Coos County. It started out kind of slow, just meth on the weekends, at a younger age and then it developed into a pill addiction, Vicodin, Percocet, whatever I could get my hands on. Around 15, 16, drinking heavily, which I mean at that point in my life it didn’t, that wasn’t a problem. I just drank on the weekends, but later on, it showed itself and then with the pills going away and getting too expensive, heroin started showing up in Coos County and then that was my main focus for lots of years. I was in and out of jail, the jail here, went to prison for about 18 months and then got out and still just kept on keeping on, until I was 29. I’m 33 now, well I’ll be 33 next month, so I’ve got about three years clean and sober. My kids, my wife and my kids and this organization saved my life, point blank period. I was in jail and my supervisor now would come and do an in-reach program and come see me in the jail and kind of give me the options for treatment because I didn’t know what that meant. I didn’t know what recovery was. I’ve been an addict pretty much my whole life and never ever heard of recovery and it was brought to me where I was most vulnerable, in the jail system and I got the chance to get out and then go into our housing program at Sheridan and I did that for like three months and then I just got on my feet and I was able to have my children, got married to my wife, got off parole after 10 years, and now I get to give back to my community that I helped destroy for so many years.
Miller: Steve, what about you? I mean you’ve been here for a lot longer. So I imagine your own recovery story is a lot further in the past.
Sanden: It is a lot further, it’s in the past. I had actually stopped using drugs and alcohol about six months before I came to Bay Area First Step. And that was because I was locked up and well, I had made a decision to stop using, but it helped being locked up. I lived a not too uncommon life for folks that are addicted. I did the divorces, I lost the kids, the houses, the jobs, owed the IRS and lost my license and everything that you can hear about, I feel like I probably experienced.
Miller: I gotta say it’s just, I know that you’re probably used to telling your story but everything you just outlined are sort of life shattering experiences put together. You’re at the point where you can sort of summarize them and sort of tick them off, like you’re just moving your fingers, a little bit, but what you’re talking about is a shattering of a life.
Sanden: I can say that I experienced hopelessness on a whole bunch of levels. And the one thing that I did have, that I did have left was I had, well I had my faith and that was huge to me. But I had a friend and I had still had some hope and I don’t know, I think because of those two things, I had a little hope left and like I said, I came to Bay Area First Step, I had literally nothing. I came to Coos County with nothing, other than I was on probation and I was given a choice in, I was actually extradited to California, I was given a choice to go to prison for a couple of years or get treatment. At the time, there was no treatment available and they ended up accepting Bay Area First Step. That was really just a housing program and we did go to outpatient treatment at a different provider. So that’s what I chose to do. I hadn’t hardly heard of Coos Bay, although I was from Oregon. But I got here and and with nothing and I, other than like I said, a friend and that little bit of hope and I kind of just stuck around. Never, never really left. I got little jobs with the organization until eventually I’m in the position I’m in now, but I, I just think that it’s, it really helped being able to be there. I know that everyone that works for us, there’s about 25 of us and I would say 23 of us have probably received direct services from this organization and most of us have received services from our partner organizations around town.
Miller: One of the similarities between both of your stories you just shared is, the connection between eventually getting treatment and a version of hope. But after being caught up in the criminal justice system. I bring this up because one of things we’ve heard a lot, one of the arguments against Measure 110, when it was on the ballot and something we still hear now now that it’s, it’s the law, is that an important piece of coercing, for lack of a better word, coercing people into treatment was the threat of prosecution? I’m curious, maybe Devin first, you can answer this. Do you agree with that? I mean, do you think that something important was lost when Oregon voters decriminalized meth and heroin and all these other drugs?
Bailey-Wilson : So it’s a two sided sword, I think, right? So on one hand, in my own personal story, going to, getting incarcerated saved my life point, blank, period, I went to jail. I got the help that I needed and then I got out and I did good, right?
Miller: But you seem to be the exact person that that argument uses to make that argument.
Bailey-Wilson : Exactly, right? So but on the other hand, if I would have had the opportunity before I even got into trouble, then my life would be completely changed. I mean, so I love my life now and I love everything I have and I love everything that I’ve accomplished, right, and I’m glad that I can give back, but if I had the opportunity to have opportunity before that had arisen, I think that the outcome would have been even more substantially greater.
Miller: Steve, Steve, how do you think about this question?
Sanden: Yeah, that’s interesting because I just realized, I could have almost made the same argument for the folks that think that way, and I really don’t think that way, the way I, here’s what I think. I think that Devin had a point. I got involved with the criminal justice system 20 years before I decided to get clean and sober and I gotta say that part of my hopelessness, part of my addiction was based around hopelessness. I immediately lost my driver’s license for 20 years, and I’m gonna tell you, at 25 years old or something, that seems pretty hopeless, especially when you live in, I lived in Alaska at the time.
Miller: How do you go anywhere? How do you have a relationship? How do you get a job? How do you get home from the job?
Sanden: There was no way. And so I feel like I just kept getting in trouble. I just couldn’t get out of the system. So I do feel that, and when I say that I had a choice between going to prison for a couple of years or getting this, I had that choice many times before, and it didn’t matter, it wasn’t okay until I mean, I wasn’t going to change until I changed.
Miller: That point, it seems like when you boil down so much of what we could talk about, it seems like we’re always left with that. On some level, it doesn’t matter how many opportunities for help or support or housing or whatever, someone is given, something has to start from inside a person. You’re the experts here, but that’s the sense that I’ve heard this so often. I’m curious how you, how you can help someone get to that point faster without, before their life has been shattered, how you get someone to want to change?
Sanden: I think that, I think that you’re right. I think that, and I don’t like it because I hear that a lot in, you’ll hear it in the recovery community, you’ll hear it different places, they’ll say, oh you got to hit bottom before you could? And in reality it’s probably, there’s a lot of truth to that, but at the same time I think we can, I think we can avoid where I was at or where Devin was at. I think that if it’s, I mean let’s face it, I have all those things I mentioned plus a bunch more that were the results of my addiction, but every one of them was traumatic, so had that first one been traumatic enough to where I would have probably wanted to change, if I had seen any hope, and I saw no hope for and it just kept compounding and compounding and compounding. So we show people hope, we’re proof that there’s hope.
Miller: Is hope the same thing as believing your life could be better, that there is a viable other way, because you’ve both been using the word hope and I’m curious what you mean by it?
Sanden: For me, it’s belief that there could be, that there’s another way. Yeah, I could not imagine, as bad as my life was, I couldn’t imagine fixing some of those things or being okay, ever being okay again. It was like, this is permanent damage. I’m not gonna be able to fix some of this stuff. And sure as you know, I was wrong, I could fix it, a lot of it.
Miller: Devin, what about you? What do you mean when you use the word hope, what do you mean by it?
Bailey-Wilson : It’s a really big word, right, hope. It means a future, point-blank. Being a heroin addict in recovery, it means, hope means the future. I mean, cause all it takes is one hit and you’re gone. So hope to me actually is actually having a life, like being able to live and not just survive.
Miller: Let’s turn to, back to state policy. But I don’t want to lose the questions about hope, but Steve first, what is Measure 110 funding? Because you’re one of, I think five, what’s the phrase now, you used to be an Addiction Recovery Center, but now under state law, you’re a Behavioral Health Resource Network and you’re one of five or so in Coos County that’s getting money, specifically through Measure 110. So how much, how much money are you going to get from the state and what are you going to be able to do with that money?
Sanden: Well, we received, we were awarded $2.5 million.
Miller: For two years?
Sanden: For 18 months, for two years basically, right. And a good portion of that’s going to be to purchase, already went to purchase a building which we just closed on Monday and to purchase another building that we lease. So we received, an awful lot of it was for capital expenses about 1.6 and the rest of it is really to help us provide the types of services we provide but on a 24/7/365 day basis.
Miller: As opposed to what, how are you time limited now?
Sanden: Well basically, you’re 9 to 5 Monday through Friday is what we’ve been kind of working. When our partners are open, behavioral health or other, other programs, but we know that there, we know there’s a need to provide services when people want those services, not when, not when we decide to get to work.
Miller: So Devin does that mean that, say a year and a half from now, if somebody comes in at two in the morning on some Sunday night, there will be somebody here who will answer the door and say ‘Come on in.” ?
Bailey-Wilson : Absolutely, absolutely. I mean that that’s the goal, right? Not only to do that but to have more peers on staff and more people that are in recovery, be able to give back and be of service and be in the recovery field also. That’s a big opportunity for us recovering addicts is, there’s a lot of, where am I going to work? I have a criminal record, what am I gonna do? And then that opens up a bunch of opportunity to us in the recovery community also, not just the people accessing care.
Miller: Is it ever hard to just, I mean you were, after years of addiction, you found work in the world of addiction, I mean you’re, you’re still surrounded, it seems, by the world that that you, after a lot of struggle were able to get out of. Is it hard to just to still be working in the same space?
Bailey-Wilson : So some days it is, and some days it isn’t. Some days it’s gratifying, it feels really good to be able to help, especially like I said before, help kind of rebuild a community that I helped destroy and then other days, yeah, it’s hard. I mean there’s triggers everywhere, but regardless, I mean you just put on your boots and get to work, right?
Miller: Can you describe what a good day is, Devin, work wise?
Bailey-Wilson : I was gonna say waking up sober. (Laughter)
Miller: So personally, does that mean for you, for the last 2.5 years, every day?
Bailey-Wilson : Three, three and some change.
Miller: Sorry, I don’t mean to take any of those…yeah, but that’s actually that’s a beautiful, an extraordinary thing, that for you every day for three plus years has been a good day in that sense.
Bailey-Wilson : Absolutely, and being able to be present for my kids, that’s a big deal.
Miller: What about professionally? I mean, because we were talking at the beginning, about how one of the big changes in the last 20 years is just the increase in the number of people who are dying, what’s a good day work wise?
Bailey-Wilson : Seeing somebody in need and being able to fulfill those needs, whether it be housing, whether it be as simple as, I mean giving somebody a pair of socks and some Narcan or I mean just being able to fulfill what needs to be done.
Miller: Steve, what about you? What’s a good day?
Sanden: Well, I’d like to see similar things. I really like it when we all work. We have several different departments, we have a treatment program, we have a housing program, we have services, of course we, we have to work together to get people what they need, but I love it when it all comes together just right, where somebody seeks services and everything they need is right there, and this particular opportunity will give us a chance to be able to to provide that, not only occasionally, but it should be pretty, pretty regularly. The goal is to be able to do that with everyone and with the amount of the housing expansion that we’ll have, the staffing expansions that we’ll have, I believe that we will be able to meet that goal and I think it’s, I look at it as a responsibility, that’s an important responsibility. Funding has been hard to come by for this industry and I’m telling you that if I feel like, and I think everybody I work with feels like, we just have an awesome responsibility to make a difference and there hasn’t, I hear folks get upset about Measure 110 sometimes. I hear folks get upset about the criminal justice system being a revolving door and those types of things. And I want to tell you that that stuff has been going on for a decade or more, probably more, but definitely for the last decade, their stuff’s been, their cars have been broken into, the jails let people out because they don’t have enough space, needles get found in the community. This is not new stuff. It’s just that I think with the decriminalization of it or the, that’s probably not even the proper term for it, but with Measure 110, that’s kind of what they focus on, they go, ‘Okay, it’s because of that’. Well, we just got funded last month. We haven’t had time, I mean in that length of time, we’ve made major renovations, we’re hiring, we’re doing all these things, but we haven’t had time for folks to see the effects and I’d really like the community and the state, citizens to give this thing a chance, because the other way wasn’t working. So I hope that, I hope we can make a big difference and I’m pretty sure we can.
Miller: Steve and Devin, thanks very much for joining us today, or I should say Steve and Devin, thanks very much for letting us come to your place today?
Sanden: Thank you.
Bailey-Wilson : Thank you.
Miller: Steve Sanden is the executive director and Devin Bailey-Wilson, the lead recovery mentor at Bay Area First Step.
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