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Health officials cut ribbon on new Spokane opioid treatment center

A sign welcomes visitors to the medication distribution area of the Spokane Regional Health District's new treatment and assistance center.
Brandon Hollingsworth, SPR News
A sign welcomes visitors to the medication distribution area of the Spokane Regional Health District's new treatment and assistance center.

Representatives from local government, public health and commerce cut the ribbon on the Spokane Regional Health District’s new opioid treatment center Friday afternoon.

The facility, located on 8th Avenue south of downtown, is a larger home for the health district’s opioid treatment and assistance effort. With a patient roster of about 1,000 people, the treatment program has outgrown its current staffing and space at SRHD’s downtown Spokane headquarters.

The new facility has five floors, and offers much more dedicated space for distributing medication, counseling, mental health services and more generalized medical care. It will serve people at every point of the treatment spectrum, from newcomers to people who have been in treatment for longer periods, said Misty Challinor, SRHD’s Treatment Services Director.

“Everybody has had an impact by opioids, in some aspect. And we want to help make lives better. We can’t fix and make everything great, but we can make people’s lives better,” Challinor said. “We want to help people with the foundation of their recovery…[and become] the best version of themselves they can be.”

The treatment and assistance program is still operating out of SRHD for the time being. Challinor hopes to begin serving patients at the new facility in December.

An increased need for care makes the larger space for opioid use treatment and associated services more important, Spokane County Commissioner Mary Kuney said. Opioid-related overdose deaths have been increasing in Spokane County since 2017, and they doubled from 103 in 2020 to 206 in 2022, according to SRHD.

“Having treatment services as part of the health district is an important piece of community health,” Kuney said. “That’s why it’s so important have this facility now, and the space that they need to do the treatment that our community needs.”

Kuney and fellow commissioners Chris Jordan and Amber Waldref attended Friday’s ribbon-cutting, as did Spokane County Sheriff John Nowels.

The 8th Avenue building was selected as the program’s new home after a ZIP code analysis showed it sits within the highest concentration of treatment services patients, according to SRHD. It is also in an area zoned for behavioral health programs, and is near hospitals and inpatient facilities.

Challinor acknowledged the location of a drug treatment and assistance center can be a tricky matter, easily capable of arousing ire from nearby residents and businesses. But that hasn’t happened with the 8th Avenue facility, she said.

“Actually, the community around here has been very welcoming, very excited, and very thankful that we’re coming in,” Challinor said. “They know that this matters, because they’ve seen the impact. They’ve seen us not being here, and the impact that has.”

People who want to get help from the SRHD program get initial medical and psycho-social assessments, and must submit to a urine screening. Once enrolled, the district said, clients work with program staff to develop individualized plans that aid their recovery through medication, counseling and health check-ups.

The medication plank of the program helps people manage withdrawal symptoms through methadone, buprenorphine and Vivitrol. But the state- and federally-accredited program offers more than medication. Its clients are also eligible for assistance in finding housing, getting a job, completing or advancing their education, and other services furnished by a mix of organizations, including local nonprofits, health care providers and government agencies.

The program is funded largely through Medicaid reimbursements, Challinor said. Some additional funding comes from Medicare, private insurance and federal block grants.

Brandon Hollingsworth is your All Things Considered host. He has served public radio audiences for fifteen years, primarily in reporting, hosting and interviewing. His previous ports-of-call were WUOT-FM in Knoxville, Tennessee, and Alabama Public Radio. His work has been heard nationally on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Here and Now and NPR’s top-of-the-hour newscasts.