Umatilla County

Umatilla County Human Services Substance Abuse Treatment

The Human Services Department is one of the smaller line items in Umatilla County’s total budget, roughly 7 percent. Yet it serves some of county’s most vulnerable residents, including many with substance abuse disorders.

“Across the state, behavioral health has never been fully funded,” says Human Services Director Amy Ashton-Williams, “but we face increasing mandates.” One of those is combatting the opioid addiction epidemic.

Williams has seen the downward spiral from prescription pain medication to addiction. “Here’s a father with a family, maintaining on OxyContin, whose prescription is cut off. Now he’s in distress; he may try to buy something off the street. If a treatment program doesn’t exist, he won’t learn how to manage, which has fallout with his family and community. We see the effect on children in schools, with behavioral problems and depression. That’s the trickle down. The whole family unit starts to deteriorate.”

The department’s substance abuse treatment program employs five alcohol/drug counselors and three certified recovery mentors, based in Pendleton, Hermiston, and Milton-Freewater. Recovery mentors were added three years ago and they are already making a difference, says Williams. “We are seeing a huge increase in client participation. People are engaging in treatment more fully and clients feel more supported.” Each mentor has personally experienced addiction, bringing life stories and skills to share about their journey to recovery. 

But funding for recovery mentors is tenuous, Williams points out, and reimbursement rates for behavioral health services are the lowest in the state. “In Oregon, 43 percent of our mentors have a college degree. They make $15.10 an hour. 44 percent of drug counselors have Master’s degrees and PhDs and they earn $18.94 per hour. We should be paying them a fair wage.”

In Umatilla County, Williams believes focused funding can have a big impact on recovery success rates – it’s all about making a personal connection. “If we can build strong relationships, we can show people how to live a different life.”

Caitlin Baggott